HL Deb 03 May 1985 vol 463 cc479-518

11.30 a.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Swinton I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The origins of this Bill lie in a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. The judgment was made in the case of Campbell and Cosans, and it related to the issue of respect for a philosophical conviction. It had been claimed by the applicants that, where a parent holds a conviction against corporal punishment in schools it amounts to a philosophical conviction which is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The court upheld the claim. The United Kingdom is bound by that ruling, and the Bill secures compliance with it.

In one important regard the Bill goes beyond what is strictly necessary for that purpose. We could have secured compliance through legislation confined to respect for philosophical convictions. But philosophical convictions are difficult to handle. They imply strongly held beliefs, and a substantial degree of cogency and seriousness. Who could safely determine which parents truly held philosophical convictions and which did not? The Bill therefore does not directly address the question of such convictions—it introduces a scheme based on parental wishes. If a parent wishes to exempt a child from corporal punishment at school then that wish is to be respected and questions about philosophical convictions do not arise.

In all other ways, however, the Bill goes as far as, and no further than, is necessary to meet the court's judgment. Some would like it otherwise. They would like the Bill to enforce abolition of corporal punishment in all our schools. That is not necessary and in our view is wholly undesirable; but the arguments about enforced abolition figured prominently in the discussions of the Bill in the other place; and I shall attempt to tease them out.

Some would argue that reasonable and moderate corporal punishment is per se unacceptable. They would wish the Bill to be an abolitionist Bill because, in their view, corporal punishment has no proper place in schools. For them it is a matter of high principle and in defence of that principle strong, emotive words are sometimes used. Cases of moderate and reasonable corporal punishment are described as "thrashings" "beatings" and "floggings". A smack on the leg is seen as an affront to dignity, and to that way of thinking the full panoply of the law must be brought to bear against it in all situations, whatever the views of parents, whatever the views of teachers.

Others would like the Bill to abolish corporal punishment because, in their view, that form of punishment is ineffective. Sweeping aside the opinions of many teachers, they argue that corporal punishment does not work; it does not deter. Their argument is that because it does not work it should be outlawed—or at least that is what they imply, because the argument, once displayed, is shown to be hollow. Schools and parents should not be left to make up their own minds. Legislation, they imply, should be introduced to prevent its use.

Others claim that abolition is the only practical way forward because any exemption scheme must be inherently unfair. Their assumption is that fairness and uniformity are inseparable; that fairness demands identical treatment. They leave to one side the fact that there are existing differences in the way pupils are punished. They ignore the fact that adjacent schools may well have different policies and that teachers in adjacent classrooms may have different approaches. We know that girls are sometimes exempted from corporal punishment while boys are not. Sometimes pupils with emotional problems are exempted, as indeed delicate pupils may be. But those facts seem to be pushed to the back of the mind.

The Government are unconvinced by any of the arguments in favour of enforced abolition. The Bill is based on the premise that reasonable and moderate corporal punishment can be an appropriate sanction.

Many thousands of parents and teachers agree with us. We are not prepared to ride roughshod over their views, or to disregard the opinion of so many people that reasonable and moderate use of this sanction has a place in school discipline. As to the fairness of the exemption scheme, we cannot accept the proposition that absolute uniformity in methods of discipline must prevail. Those who deserve punishment should be punished, and those who cannot be made liable to corporal punishment should be subject to some other form of discipline.

We have therefore introduced a Bill based on an exemptions scheme. The Bill gives parents a new right without withdrawing their existing rights. It is the right to exempt their children from corporal punishment at school; it is a direct and unequivocal response to the judgment in the case of Campbell and Cosans, bringing United Kingdom legislation in line with the court's interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I now turn briefly to the clauses of the Bill. Clauses 1 to 4 relate to England and Wales; Clause 5 covers Scotland; Clause 6 relates to Northern Ireland; and the remaining clauses of the schedule are of a general nature. Clause 1 is fundamental to the Bill. It defines corporal punishment and restricts its use. Only those pupils whose names are entered in a register are to be liable to it. The clause provides a remedy where pupils are corporally punished despite a parental claim for exemption. The remedy takes the form of civil proceedings in which the defence of acting in loco parentis would be unavailable to the teacher or other member of staff, as defined by the clause.

The definition of corporal punishment is broad and brings within itself slaps, smacks and other forms of physical chastisement. There is, however, no new restriction on a teacher's right to intervene physically where there is immediate danger to person or property. The clause defines pupils covered by the Bill. In particular, it ensures that pupils at maintained schools and those whose fees are paid wholly or in part directly from public funds come within an exemptions scheme. The legislation will not apply to most pupils at independent schools.

Clause 2 prevents abuse of the exemptions scheme through suspension, expulsion or refusal of admisssion. It stops a school from saying an exempted child is automatically unamenable to discipline and can therefore be debarred from school on that ground alone. This clause was added to the Bill as it proceeded through the other place and in response to concern that schools might find excuses for keeping out, or expelling, pupils whose parents wished to exempt them from corporal punishment. We intend that the new parental right should be real and as a safeguard have incorporated this clause. My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said, parents should not be unduly penalised for their philosophical convictions as they might be if schools resorted to debarments as a way of escaping the Bill's provisions".—[OfficialRepon, Commons, 15/4/85; col. 581 Clause 3 set out the essential framework of a register system. It is around this framework that the regulations will be prepared. We envisage a register in which the names of pupils liable to corporal punishment would be placed. The scheme would work as follows. Once a school had decided to make some or all of its pupils liable to corporal punishment, it would seek the views of the parents of those pupils. That would be done by way of a standardised form sent to the pupils' home addresses. At least six weeks would be allowed for the return of the form.

On the basis of the replies, the register would be completed. Where a parent sought exemption, the pupil's name would be deleted from the register. Where a parent wished the pupil to be liable to corporal punishment, that fact would be recorded and the pupil would be liable. If, within six weeks, the parents had not replied the school could, if it so wished, and after taking steps to remind the parents, record the pupil as being liable to corporal punishment. At any stage a parent could change his or her mind, with a short waiting period when the change was from liability to exemption, or the school could arrange exemption on its own authority. Certain parents living away from the pupil's home address would be able to exempt him.

Clause 4 places responsibility for the maintenance of registers on school governing bodies, proprietors and, for pupils in nursery schools and those educated otherwise than at school, local education authorities. It also makes miscellaneous provisions for the production of register extracts in legal proceedings, for the service of notices, or in plain language the return of consent and exemption views, and for Clauses 1 to 4 to form part of the Education Acts. The clause also gives the Secretary of State one additional power. It allows him to terminate a participation agreement between the Secretary of State and the proprietor of an Assisted Places Scheme school if the school does not comply with the regulations. This is a small but necessary power.

Clause 5 creates an exemptions scheme for Scotland and takes account of some differences between the situation there and that in England and Wales. It allows 16- and 17-year-olds to exempt themselves from corporal punishment. This mirrors the position accorded young persons in other aspects of Scottish educational legislation, for example, rights relating to choice of school. The terms of the clause also reflect the long-standing policy in Scotland relating to corporal punishment. The Secretary of State for Scotland has encouraged gradual elimination of corporal punishment and that process has been largely completed. That is a rather different policy from that in England and Wales, where many parents and teachers see a place for the moderate and reasonable use of that sanction in schools. But the Government are at one in rejecting the possibility of enforced abolition. Clause 5 goes towards making this a United Kingdom Bill under which an exemptions scheme will apply wherever corporal punishment is retained as a school sanction.

Clause 6 anticipates a parallel exemptions scheme in Northern Ireland; and as I have said, Clauses 7 and 8 are of general nature, among other things providing for different sections of the Bill to be brought into force at different times. We have it in mind that the exemptions scheme should be fully in operation by September 1986. We need to give schools time to consider and implement their policies.

In conclusion, this Bill is needed to comply with the court's judgment in the case of Campbell and Cosans. We cannot evade the judgment, nor should we seek to do so. The provisions of the Bill avoid a centralist line, encouraging schools and parents to make up their own minds about the use of corporal punishment. Where both schools and parents agree on this issue, we should not, through legislation, prevent them from using that sanction. The Government's view is that parents will welcome the legislation and will exercise their new right responsibly. The signs are that if they are given the opportunity of making a choice, many parents will accept that the schools' disciplinary approaches, including corporal punishment, should apply as much to their own children as to others. A MORI poll earlier this year showed that, leaving aside the "Don't knows", some 63 per cent. of parents interviewed favoured the use of corporal punishment in schools, and that a slightly higher proportion—65 per cent.—would be willing to allow their own children to be liable to it.

As to the overall effect of the Bill, the financial implications are small. The administrative costs, including postage, will be slight; and the Government do not envisage an increase in local authority staffing complements as a result of the Bill. At the level of individual schools, some that have relied heavily on corporal punishment may need a period of adjustment. But the exemptions scheme is workable and in its operation may well draw parents and schools together in the knowledge that both have responsibilities in matters of discipline. I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Baroness Cox.)

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down—I think that is the proper term—can she clarify one point for me? Does the Bill mean that children in one class can receive corporal punishment whereas other children in the same class cannot receive corporal punishment?

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I think that this point will become clear; but in principle, yes, it means that that could be the case. It is according to the parents' wishes and the policy of the school.

11.46 a.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I am sure that we shall all wish to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on her first major appearance at that Box and her first appearance on an educational matter. She will have not only our congratulations but our admiration and sympathy on having put up so spirited a defence of one of the silliest pieces of legislation that has ever come before the House.

Why have we got this extraordinary Bill? It is the result of two pressures. On the one hand, we accept the validity of the European Convention on Human Rights, and on the other hand we are now the only country in Europe which permits corporal punishment of children in its schools. It is the coming together of those two things which has landed the Government with what they believe is the necessity of producing the present Bill. Of course, like so much of the educational legislation of this Government it means yet more paperwork and form filling, some of which is bound to fall on the unfortunate teachers who had quite a dose of that added to them in the 1980 and 1981 Education Acts.

How is it going to work? The responsible body, as it is called, the school, has first of all to decide whether it is going to allow any children in its care to be subjected to corporal punishment. The responsible body will usually, although not invariably, be the governors of the school. But what is to happen in those local authorities where the local authority has itself already forbidden corporal punishment? Can the governors of a school in the area of such a local authority say, "No, we are going to have under this Bill a register of children liable to corporal punishment"? If they produce such a register, and a teacher inflicts corporal punishment, can he plead the register and this Bill in defence when the local authority asks him why he has disobeyed its clear instruction on this matter?

In fact, who has the legal power to decide whether or not there shall be corporal punishment in a school: the board of governors or the local authority? The Government do not appear to have sorted that out. Perhaps before the debate ends we may have an answer to it. If the governors decide to have a register of children liable to corporal punishment, children can be got off that register if, as the Bill says, a parent objects. I notice that the words in the Bill are, "a parent". I presume therefore that if the two parents are of a different opinion an objection by either of them would take the child's name off the register. So we have a Bill which is liable to create not only a certain amount of confusion in school discipline, but also a certain amount of discord in the home as well. So far as I can see, that is what it must mean. One takes it as a matter of common sense and of law that the word "parents" covers "guardian" or anyone who is properly in charge of the child.

We notice that in order to free the child from liability to corporal punishment the parent has to act. It may be said that that is not difficult; no, it is not. But we always have a certain number of parents for whom the filling in of forms is a difficulty. This particularly applies to those belonging to ethnic minorities whose mother tongue is not English and for whom this is yet another piece of bureaucracy that puts them at something of a disadvantage compared with the other body of parents. I cannot see that that is desirable.

I was glad that the noble Baroness referred to the striking provision that in Scotland anyone aged 16 can decide for himself whether or not he will be liable to corporal punishment. I am sure that there are reasons running back into the history of Scotland for this legal difference, but I do not see why the Government should not have taken the opportunity to introduce a vestige of common sense into the proceedings. If a Scottish boy or girl aged over 16 can be trusted to take that decision, I do not see why English and Welsh children of the same age should not be given the same privilege. However, this anomaly is apparently to be embedded in this Bill.

When all this is done—when the register is prepared, the parents have made up their mind once and possibly changed it again, and the father and mother, if they disagree, have somehow reached an agreement on what is to be done—we are still left with the situation which my noble friend who intervened at the end of the speech of the noble Baroness pointed out, in which two children in the same class who have committed the same offence can be punished in quite a different manner. The noble Baroness replied in effect that justice does not require uniformity of treatment. That is true, but it is a far cry from that to saying that justice requires that there shall be disuniformity of treatment. That is what the Bill does. It puts the teacher in a position where two pupils have behaved in a very similar manner, in a manner that deserves rebuke or punishment, and one of them can receive corporal punishment while the other cannot. The Bill is complied with; that is what will happen. We all listened to the defence by the noble Baroness that lack of uniformity is capable of being justice. Well, all I can say is, let her try persuading the boy who has received the corporal punishment in those circumstances that that was fair, and she will not get very far with it. This was clear enough to a member of the Government, the noble Baroness's colleague, the Lord Advocate, when he pleaded the British case before the Court of Human Rights. I shall quote what he said on that occasion: Lord Mackay, Lord Advocate, speaking for the Government during the hearing of Campbell and Cosans case before the European Court [said]: 'It would not be feasible to have a system in which children in the same class were differently treated in this respect according to the view of their parents because it must be a fairly fundamental practice of any reasonable system of discipline in a school that it should be seen to be fair'. Exactly the same view, though in different words, was expressed by Sir Vincent Evans, the British judge on the Commission, who dissented from the majority view of the Commission.

This is the heart of the difficulty. A situation has been produced which common sense says will be unfair. No amount of elegant argument about differentiation of treatment in certain circumstances will avoid the Fact that if this Bill comes into operation, it will repeatedly produce a situation which the pupils themselves will be bound to regard as unfair, which their parents and fellow pupils will regard as unfair and which the teacher himself will probably regard as unfair.

How do we get out of this extraordinary situation? I would suggest that the only way is the abolition of corporal punishment, and I want to put some considerations against the objections of the noble Baroness to that solution. What will happen in future cases before the European Commission? It has not yet ruled that corporal punishment in schools is in itself a defiance of human rights. It has ruled so far that to inflict corporal punishment against the wishes of the parents is a defiance of human rights, but it has already decided that the infliction of judicial corporal punishment is in itself an infringement of human rights. There are a number of cases to come before it and it may at any time take the further step—it is not a very long one—of deciding that corporal punishment in schools is degrading and is an infringement of human rights.

We have to come up against the fact that, as I said at the beginning, we are the only nation in Europe that practises corporal punishment in its schools. I hope that the noble Baroness, or somebody, will be able to tell us during the course of the debate why this should be so. What is it about British boys and girls that makes it impossible, apparently, to get them to behave properly without hitting them? What is wrong with British teachers that they cannot keep discipline without this particular sanction? I am not arguing that this was always the case. We are considering what we ought to do in Europe in the latter part of the 20th century, facing the fact that there is not a single other country now that uses this form of punishment. That is sufficient to show that it is not a necessary part of school discipline. I hope that nobody will say that all the schools in the rest of Europe are badly run because there is not this beating of children. If all the other countries can manage their school discipline properly without corporal punishment, why on earth cannot we?

The case I mentioned, where the court has already decided that judicial corporal punishment is in itself degrading and an infringement of human rights, arose from a case in the Isle of Man. That leads me to ask why this Bill does not apply in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, because we are responsible for their behaviour before the European Court. We could, if we wished, make this Bill apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. In effect we have, I believe, required the Isle of Man to observe the court's ruling on judicial corporal punishment.

We have already spent about £1 million in arguing cases in Europe and in paying compensation to parents and pupils where corporal punishment has been used. The cases still to be heard are piling up. We shall have a bill of several million pounds before the process is over and we shall be arguing it always before a court composed of Europeans who cannot for the life of them understand why we desperately cling on trying to defend this outmoded form of punishment. We have already put ourselves in an untenable position. What the Bill suggests is that we should continue trying to maintain that untenable position until we are ultimately forced out of it.

What are the Government going to do when the court decides that the corporal punishment of children in schools is an infringement of human rights? That decision cannot be very long delayed and when that happens the whole of this Bill will be nonsense. We should do better to recognise now, straight away, that that is so and proceed to set a date by which abolition should be secured.

12 noon

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, with one point at least I have no difficulty at all. That is to echo most warmly our congratulations and warm good wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box. It worried me a little only in this way: that she presented the matter with such clarity and conviction that I began to wonder whether I myself was quite right in what I was going to say. Certainly, we all look forward keenly to her appearances at the Dispatch Box, we would hope that she will, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, put it, have better causes to advocate.

As I came down to the forum this morning, perhaps in rather reflective mood, I wondered if any Members of your Lordships' House might be inclined to regale us with the traditional tale of the boy who had beatings inflicted upon him which did no harm and perhaps did some good. With that in mind, I look back over my own experience. I was educated at a school in Glasgow, starting at the age of four and three quarters. The "three-quarters" at that stage is important, just as the one-half is important, because it shows that one is not a child of four but on the very threshold of manhood. This was a public school and I knew that it was a public school because embossed or engraved on this sombre, sandstone building in Glasgow was written large, "Mount Florida Public School"—and there was another one up the road, similarly engraved on the sandstone facing, "Homelea Public School". These were schools the responsibility for which lay with the education authority in Glasgow, which was then an elected body.

I recall that my first day at school—and as well as being a public school, it was a co-educational school—I was seated beside a young girl of the advanced age of five. She made my existence in the classroom quite intolerable throughout the day. So when I left school, and she, too, I followed her to the gate and gave her a short, sharp shock of corporal punishment. But I did not know that I had been observed and our teacher, Miss Savage, who was known among the older boys as, "Savage by name and savage by nature" came up from behind and gave me a cuff with the back of her hand that startled me and, not content with that, harangued me on the wickedness of inflicting physical pain and suffering on the female of the species. And, my Lords, I have not hit a woman since then. Therefore, I have no sentimental illusions about the efficacy of corporal punishment inflicted on schoolboys, among whom there are always a certain number of young savages.

But enough of this anecdotage. I can be quite brief because I agree with practically the whole tenor of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. There is one minor point which I may touch on before I sit down, but this enables me at least, as your Lordships will be happy to know, to keep short what I say about the Bill. I think that this little Bill really demonstrates something as it seeks to regulate the administering of punishment in our schools. It illustrates, I think, two things: first of all, the extent to which Parliament today has lost the power effectively to control the Executive; and, secondly, the serious damage to our national wellbeing which today—and I emphasise "today"—results from an electoral system which concentrates power in the hands of the Labour and Conservative Parties. I am not going to do a plug for electoral reform. Your Lordships need have no fear of that; but I think that there is a serious point to be made in that context.

With regard to my first point, no one in the other place—and this was significant—gave the Bill a wholehearted welcome at all—and, least of all (and this was said by others in the other place) the Secretary of State himself. No one from the Scottish Office attended; if one did, he did not speak on the matter; and there are certain aspects of this United Kingdom Bill which apply to Scotland.

The critics of the measure described it variously. "Unworkable", said some; "bizarre", said others; and so on. Now, "unworkable" is a fair description but whether it is literally true or not, I am not so certain. But what I think is as clear as a pikestaff is that it will not promote the better working of our schools either educationally or administratively; and a further dimension will be introduced into the system which will tend to gum up the works. "Bizarre", said many in the other place. Let me try to illustrate. On my staff at the court at which I worked there was a young man who had started his working life as a teacher. He had been a dedicated teacher. He was a big, strong young man and he had a real vocation for teaching. Unfortunately, he landed up in one of the problem schools. He tried very hard for a long time and he told me that what really decided him to change his employment was when one of the pupils came at him with a knife. He was not frightened; he had no difficulty in disarming the boy. He was a tall, strong young man and he dealt with him very effectively, but that was the end of his career as a teacher.

This is a very rare thing, of course. It is not typical; but it is where the problem in relation to corporal punishment in schools really lies. This is the problem and in answer to this problem the Government offer us this—and I use the word again—bizarre little Bill. Think of this problem of maintaining discipline in the problem areas of education. What do the Government suggest? We read in Clause 1 of the Bill: A person is not to be taken for the purposes of this section as giving corporal punishment by virtue of anything done for reasons that include averting an immediate danger of personal injury to, or an immediate danger to the property of, any person (including the pupil concerned)". We all know what that means. Then there is Clause 3(1), and we know also what that means. But what of the teacher who has to deal with a recalcitrant pupil, whether in the extreme case such as I have just described or in a less extreme case? The Government are bringing in this legislation at a time when in Glasgow the other day schoolchildren went on strike and ran amok in the streets. I think they did it in some other city in the southern part of the Kingdom, too. The police had to be brought in and they were arrested.

Do the Government seriously imagine that this measure will contribute to the alleviation or the solution of this problem? I started off by saying how little control Parliament seems to be able to exercise over the Executive nowadays, because I should have thought that against this kind of background and in relation to this kind of problem Parliament would have sent this Bill back to the Government, perhaps with a schoolmasterly observation of the type, "A brave try, but must do better". I think it will be very difficult to amend this Bill.

As to my second point—and I look at the clock and hope that I have not gone on too long—I want to say that I believe it is a pity that the court decided as it did; if I had been on that court I would certainly have found myself with the dissenting judge. So I have some sympathy with the Government, to the extent that how to comply with this judgment in the historical context of our educational system requires, in turn, a nice governmental sense of judgment too. This Bill surely fails under that head. Someone in the other place said that perhaps it was making the best of a bad job; and if your Lordships feel about the decision of the court as I confess that I do, then it was a bad job they had to deal with. What bothers me is that instead of making the best of it they seem to have made the worst of it.

The real problem is how to identify the difficult schools and to seek the best means of maintaining discipline in them without corporal punishment. Against that background, I must say that I thought the somewhat dreary and sterile arguments—in which I am sure your Lordships would not indulge—for and against corporal punishment in schools really have no place. But it was those arguments which seemed to dominate the discussions between the contestants in the Labour Party and those in the Conservative Party. I have none of the feelings, to which the noble Baroness referred, about high principles regulating this matter. I have no concluded formal views on that, but we have to accept the decision of the court in Europe. There are surely other ways and other solutions which a sensible approach could find. I would hope—I know it is a pious hope—that the Government will take the whole Bill back and look at it again.

12.15 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, perhaps I may join with other noble Lords and offer the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, our good wishes. We are delighted to see her at the Dispatch Box.

I am worried about this Bill; I am worried about its inconsistency, which leads to injustice, conflict and a sense of guilt. Take Mrs. Bloggs of 5 Acacia Avenue. Mrs. Bloggs receives a form. She does not quite know what to do with it, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, has said, and so she leans over the fence and talks to her neighbour, Mrs. Higgins, of 7 Acacia Avenue. One thinks that perhaps she should sign for her son to have corporal punishment and the other one thinks not. So they argue it out, and finally they sign according to their own wishes. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, says, both boys, living next door to one another and being friends, commit the same offence together. But Mrs. Bloggs has signed the form and Mrs. Higgins has not; and therefore one boy receives 100 lines and has to stay in while the other one receives corporal punishment. It can of course work both ways: one boy who wanted to play cricket on a summer afternoon, would have preferred the corporal punishment. In another case another boy would have preferred the 100 lines to corporal punishment.

It is the inconsistency of it that is worrying. My experience of working with children, particularly delinquent children, down the years tells me that the two things they seek are justice and fairness. Very many times a child has said to me, "Miss, it isn't fair". It is justice and fairness that children look for. Furthermore, I would contend that the relationship between the children and their parents is not improved. This is going to be very difficult. One child says to his mother, "Mum, why didn't you sign the form?"; and another one says, "Mum, why did you?" That can produce conflict.

From a teacher's point of view, I do not agree personally with corporal punishment, but if one remembers Stalky and Co., the headmaster gave Beatle, McTurk and Stalky corporal punishment. But within the school it was the climate of opinion and it was agreed by all the boys and masters that only the headmaster should give corporal punishment and that there should be corporal punishment for all. And so there was consistency.

I have for many years dealt with children in trouble. Of the children in our children's homes in Oxford, over the years only three were sent to an approved school. The rest were dealt with within our children's homes, where corporal punishment was not allowed. Furthermore, I am a member of Barnardo's council. We have a care and control paper which is issued to all our staff in the children's homes and in the schools. No child or young person must ever receive corporal punishment.

In regard to effectiveness, I would point out that we in this country have more children in custodial care than any of the other EC countries. Therefore our corporal punishment does not seem to be effective; I stress that point. I should like also to ask my noble friend Lady Cox: which sector of society wants this Bill? She has mentioned the MORI poll, whereby parents, or a proportion of them, were prepared for their children to receive corporal punishment. But did the MORI poll ask whether some children should and some children should not have it? I should like very much to know to what sector of society this Bill is directed. Who is it pleasing and who is it satisfying? So very briefly, and in conclusion, I have to say with deep regret, as it is the noble Baroness's first Bill, that I cannot agree with it: first, because of its inconsistency, its injustice and its possible leading to conflict between parents and children, children and children, and children and staff; and, secondly, because I personally do not agree at all with corporal punishment.

12.20 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, perhaps I may join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on her first venture in taking a Bill through the House. I am sorry on her behalf, too, that it is such a silly Bill. It is an unfair Bill and I think it is virtually unworkable. I am used to agreeing with the noble Baroness across the Floor of the House on many health issues, but on this one I am afraid I have to part company with her; and there are health issues involved in the subject with which this Bill is concerned. I am afraid that it is yet another example of the basically uncaring and undemocratic state that the Conservative Party has reached today, despite some charitable attitudes in the past and its claim to be the party of the family.

For years now, practically every professional body concerned with the education and welfare of children has advocated the abolition or the phasing-out of corporal punishment in schools. I have a list of 19 of them—and I can add two more professsional medical bodies, the British Paediatric Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists—all opposed to corporal punishment. It is basically inconsistent with a law which forbids the use of corporal punishment of adults or young people in penal institutions, as my noble friend Lord Stewart has pointed out, and it is odd that it should be still be allowed for children with or without their parents' permission.

The case for its abolition was put most eloquently some 12 years ago by my noble friend Lady Wootton in moving her Private Member's Bill for the protection of minors. I should like to quote one passage from her speech. She said, Strangest of all, my Lords, do I find the implication for our social values, in that apparently in this country at the present time the only people who can wield a cane with impunity in the exercise of their professional activities are teachers and prostitutes. The justification often given for the corporal punishment of children is its deterrent effect on those who commit certain serious offences. However, repeated studies have shown that it neither has a deterrent effect nor is it given only for serious offences—in fact, rather the converse.

I know that the practice has decreased since my school days, but I remember vividly—I shall here divert into my own experience, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside—the effect it had on me and the offences were quite trivial: going fishing instead of going to church on a Sunday, and going outside the school grounds before breakfast when I had been told particularly not to on one occasion. What respect I had for the masters concerned completely evaporated and was replaced by resentment and hostility. I despised them for the rest of my school career and used every opportunity to outwit their authority, taking care not to get caught. It is not a very good way to encourage a co-operative attitude to authority.

But I only quote my own experience as an example of widespread findings that corporal punishment is a very ineffective form of discipline, and is in fact counter-productive. In my case, it did not awaken or encourage a violent streak—at least, not so far—but there is plenty of evidence that far from controlling violence, it actually encourages it. If beating is carried out by adults, children learn to regard physical violence as an acceptable form of behaviour. Violence is a problem in our society, as every noble Lord knows, whether expressed as football hooliganism, mugging, granny battering or non-accidental injury, which is otherwise known as baby battering. Schools where beating is allowed have worse behaviour problems than those which use other methods of maintaining discipline.

When corporal punishment is given up, staff-pupil relationships improve and the "us" and "them" opposed attitude between teachers and pupils decreases and is replaced by a more co-operative working relationship. This does not happen overnight. Other measures of controlling difficult or "acting-out" behaviour must be carefully worked out. The Association of Educational Psychologists has produced an extremely useful booklet for teachers entitled Alternatives to Corporal Punishment, which discusses the whole topic in a most helpful way. The rewards of adopting a different disciplinary system can be most rewarding and very satisfying for the staff. More important, it is likely that responsible attitudes to authority will be instilled which will persist into adult life.

A further facet of the harm done by corporal punishment to society is the effect on the staff member who inflicts the punishment. There is no doubt that beating can give rise to a perverted sense of pleasure with sexual overtones, which can also sometimes, paradoxically, be felt by the victim. These aspects have been brilliantly portrayed in the film "If", and of course in the play and film "Another Country", which considered the long-term effects of corporal punishment and the British public school system. Incidentally, it is interesting that although corporal punishment in public schools is less common than it was, this Bill will have no legal effect in independent schools. In other words, if parents send their children to an independent "beating" school, they will have no say in whether or not their privileged child's bottom is whacked, as mine was.

By producing this unfortunate Bill, the Government have lost a very good opportunity, as other noble Lords have said, to come into line with the rest of the civilised world. The party opposite should—and could—do better, since it likes to think that it has a caring tradition. I hope that as the Bill goes through its remaining stages, we persuade the Government to change it into something better, though, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, has pointed out, I do not know how we are going to be able to do that.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree as a doctor that mental punishment for a child is often even more unpleasant then physical punishment and that in continental countries, where teachers are denied the use of the cane, they resort instead to withering and sometimes soul-destroying scorn and sarcasm?

Lord Rea

My Lords I shall certainly reply to that. I do not think that the alternative to corporal punishment need be that cruel or sarcastic punishment of which the noble Lord speaks. There are other much more constructive ways of controlling the discipline and attitude towards authority of children in school.

12.28 p.m.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, must by now be tired of receiving the congratulations of every speaker during this debate, but I should like to add mine. She told me not long ago that she was terrified of the idea of making her first appearance at the Dispatch Box. However, perhaps I may tell her that she has absolutely no reason to feel like that. She has done it a great deal better than many others.

I should like to give this Bill a measured welcome. I say "measured", because there are some things in it that are perhaps unworkable, but I should like to get down to this business of corporal punishment as a whole. Those who are so firmly against it have an idea that corporal punishment in a school is something that takes place every day, and that if you fail to answer a question correctly you at once get a beating for it. I have taught for a good many years and may I say that that is absolute and utter nonsense. It occurs only after the very worst misbehaviour. In schools where it is kept as a regular thing, it is only what one might call—what is the word? I am getting to the age now when I cannot remember words. What is the word we use for weapons which we are not going to use?

Noble Lords

A deterrent.

Lord Somers

Yes, my Lords, I am sorry. That is the whole point: it is not used at every moment. It is used only in extreme circumstances. Therefore there is no need to feel that a school where corporal punishment is used is a den of cruelty to children. It is nothing of the sort.

A previous speaker mentioned the harm that is done to a child by corporal punishment. My noble friend Lord Monson put his finger on exactly the point that I was going to raise. A great deal more harm can be done to a child by mental cruelty than by any form of corporal punishment. I remember perfectly well that when I was teaching at Epsom College boys who had suffered corporal punishment just laughed at it. They took it as being absolutely in the natural course of events and said no more about it. They bore no ill-will to anybody because of it. So I think that a great bugbear is being made of corporal punishment which is entirely unnecessary.

On thing that is perhaps not quite workable in this Bill is the possible lack of uniformity. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, when she introduced the Bill said that fairness demands uniformity. She was absolutely right. Under the system that we have here some are going to be liable to corporal punishment and some are not. That is far from fair. I therefore think that we must have either all or none liable to it, unless of course there are very special cases which can be certified by a doctor or in some other professional way which will make that child not liable. Those of course would be very rare cases.

I should like to point out, incidentally, that I am speaking about boys. I have rather different opinions about girls. I am not sure that it is very suitable for girls, though I have also taught in a girls school. It was never used there as far as I can remember. I do not think that it is a very good form of discipline for girls. But I feel that for boys the mere knowledge that it is possible that they will receive the cane or some other form of corporal punishment is enough to keep many of them on the straight path when otherwise they might stray. Therefore, I support the Bill with reservations.

12.34 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, as the noble Baroness who introduced the Bill was speaking, I reflected on the awful things that can happen to an intelligent Back-Bencher when the system promotes a Member of this House to be a Minister. I am sure that, while underlining the congratulations that are certainly her due, we all feel great sympathy for the noble Baroness for having to introduce a bad Bill, which she has done efficiently and agreeably.

This Bill is too bad to be true. It is a dotty Bill. It the dottiest Bill that I can recall in 35 years in Parliament. My noble friend Lord Stewart said it was the silliest Bill. It is worse than silly. I am so indignant about it that I must go on for a minute to say that I think this Bill is an affront to the intelligence of this House. I really do not think that we should give it a Second Reading without a Division. That this Bill should be given a Second Reading in your Lordships' House without a Division and that that should be reported to the public outside will lead lots of people to ask, -Have they gone mad? Have we not recently been looking at this intelligent and wise body of maturity and experience—such a contrast to the rowdyism of the other place? Isn't this the Chamber from where really wise government is coming?" Now we are being asked to behave as if we had taken leave of out senses.

I really believe that it is a serious matter for your Lordships' House to be asked to give this Bill a Second Reading. For my part, I shall yell "Not-Content" to the end. It is not fair to ask us to sit here and pass this Bill even in principle because it is not fit to be a Bill for serious consideration.

The best that can be hoped, if perchance Parliament decides eventually to pass it, is that the sheer absurdity of the Bill will lead to a wide movement among parents in this country to secure exemption from this ridiculous practice and from the complexities and difficulties of the Bill.

I am little puzzled by the last paragraph of the Bill's Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which states: There are some schools where the staff have relied heavily on corporal punishment and where the decision to withdraw it as a consequence of an exemptions scheme may increase the workload of the staff until other methods of obtaining good discipline have been adopted; but it should not be necessary for education authorities to increase the overall size of their teaching forces". What a commentary on the existence of those schools which fall within that description! It makes one wonder why ever schools of that kind continue to rely heavily on corporal punishment without some investigation into why it should be so. Moreover, if such schools are likely to be the target by so many parents for exemption from the heavy reliance on corporal punishment, I think it will indicate still further that there are problems in many of the schools included in that definition.

Another point which concerns me regarding the Bill is parental friction. There was no corporal punishment in my home, but there was friction between my parents on matters of principle and importance regarding what should be done at school and elsewhere. The reason I have four first names is that my parents could not agree on two. When on the last permitted day my father went to register my birth as required by law my mother did not know what names I was going to be given. She was quite astonished when, in the spirit of a good old British compromise, my father came home and said, "I have registered all four". That is a little light relief perhaps in an otherwise sombre speech on this subject, though I add in parenthesis that four Christian names of the length of those which I was given have been an encumbrance to me in filling up forms ever since. There has never been enough space for them. Those people who have registered their children, as one man did, in the names of all the 11 footballers of Liverpool United's team really have a great deal to answer for.

What about the case of separated parents? There is a problem. The attitude of children towards their parents has already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. Children will ask, "Why have I been punished, mum? Willy was with me and we were both in it together, but he cannot be punished because he has some kind of exemption. Why is he treated in this way and let off while I am beaten?" I do not know how parents are going to answer to their children for what they have done or have failed to do in this particular respect. That situation, too, will lead to a good deal of family discord. I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Rea when he says that the party opposite claims that it is the party of the family, the party which ministers to the family and to the care of the sanctity of the family, and yet presents a measure that will turn some families into a bit of a shambles.

Lord Somers

My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, he is entirely wrong to say that children do not know why they are beaten. They know perfectly well. They know the rules of their school, and if they transgress those rules they know perfectly well what is coming to them.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, that may be the noble Lord's experience but, if one may be permitted to draw on one's own experience, I am bound to say that the only time I received corporal punishment at school it was not for misbehaviour of any kind but for what was alleged to be lack of effort. To say that I knew what I was being punished for and that I well knew the rules would be entirely wrong: I did not know that rule, anyway. I was not conscious of having done anything wrong. That injustice has stuck in my mind for 80 years.

I am against corporal punishment because of the injustice that can arise as a result of the caprice or sense of judgment of teachers of particular types and of the emotional state that they may be in. I have a very clear memory of seeing corporal punishment. As far as girls are concerned, one has to look a little deeper into reactions to the affront of interference with their person by somebody else.

The noble Baroness who introduced this Bill referred several times to reasonable and moderate corporal punishment, but as I see the definition of corporal punishment in this Bill it means something which, but for the sanction given under this Bill to adminster it, would be battery. Battery would be an offence and it would be actionable. It would indeed be battery if it were not protected by the definition and the conditions of corporal punishment contained in this Bill. We are not dealing here with a tap on the shoulder: we are dealing with something that is a deliberate infliction upon the boy or girl.

It seems to me that in many cases such punishment will not have to be inflicted on the spur of the moment but will probably have to be verified as to its validity by a hurried look at the register. In fact, there will need to be computers in many classrooms so that teachers can tell by the push of a button whether or not the person they are lifting the cane to hit is an exempt person. The absurdity of this Bill in practice will be absolutely beyond belief.

I feel strongly that we should take the exceptional course of saying to the Government, "It is too much to ask us to accept the principle that a Government Bill coming from another place should be given an unopposed Second Reading in order that it can be attended to in Committee". How can this Bill be attended to in Committee? It is a cross between those who want to punish and those who feel that they must do something to subscribe to the decisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We should on this occasion have the courage to adopt one course of action or the other. We should say either that we will abolish corporal punishment altogether or that we will have to decline to conform with the construction of the European Court of Human Justice. We should adopt one measure or another and be courageous, and not try the absurd compromise that we now have before us. I cannot really trust myself to say anything more about this Bill except that I am against it—tooth and nail against it.

12.46 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on her promotion to "the hot seat". I have long looked forward to the day when I, as a Liberal trendy in education matters, would be able to debate with one of the authors of the black papers across the Floor of this House. My surprise must be as great as that of the noble Baroness to find that in this particular Bill we are on the same side.

I should make it clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party. Such will be obvious to your Lordships from my position on the list of speakers and my place on these Benches: it will not necessarily be so obvious to those who read my remarks in Hansard, which is why I mention it. However, I intend to maintain that this Bill is in keeping with some of the best traditions of Liberalism. My colleagues take another line. I think they are mistaken, but that is their privilege. I was extremely interested to hear the cogently-argued speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson.

I should also like to make it clear that, as I have consistently argued in your Lordships' House in over 10 years, I am against the corporal punishment of children. It is not for me a matter of searing principle: I merely think that, on balance, an educational ethos that depends on violence is a bad one. I agree with almost everything the noble Lord, Lord Rea, had to say. I particularly agree with what he said about the effect on those who administer violence. I tend to be on the side of Lord Macaulay's puritans, who condemned bear-baiting not for its effect on the bear but because bear-baiters derived pleasure from it.

It is because I do not regard this matter as being of searing importance that I am able to place it second to a principle of considerable importance; that is, the principle of devolution. The question as to whether to have corporal punishment in schools is rightly in the hands of local educational authorities and individual headmasters and governors. I would oppose any Bill that interferes with that power unless its only purpose was to protect the rights of those even further down the line, as this Bill does. This Bill seems to me to do exactly that. It recognises the rights of parents, and those rights have not heretofore in this field been recognised in this country.

Although I myself would not beat my children, I should not totally object to their going to a school which applied corporal punishment. It would seem to me that the school was probably wrong but, as I said, I refuse to regard the matter as of the highest importance. But I respect the views and the rights of those who feel that it is important. To date the trouble with the existing state of affairs is that, if parents have not wanted their children to be beaten, there has been nothing that they could do about it. In the private sector of course they could change schools, but we in this House are responsible for the rights of parents in the public sector, and there there was nothing that could be done about it. Now, thanks to the European Commission on Human Rights, there is, and their right—in my view undoubted—not to have their children beaten is upheld.

What then should be done? Centralisers, of whom there are far too many in politics, even in those parties which give lip service to devolution, have a simple answer—abolish corporal punishment. But I am not a centraliser. I am a devolutionist, and so, it appears, is the Secretary of State for Education. Surrounded by centralisers such as Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Heseltine and Mr. Jenkin, he alone appears to keep trying the old Conservative tradition that the local man may be assumed to know best; and so he has produced this Bill.

It is true that his reasoning may not have been quite the same as mine. He may merely have started by wondering how on earth he could deal with an unwelcome European decision. But when he surveyed the hornets' nest he had stirred up, I should not be at all surprised if his thoughts were not something along the lines that I have just expressed; and I am not the slightest bit surprised that he has not backed down amid the chorus of criticism that he has met and is meeting.

The real opposition to this Bill comes not from parents or the citizens of this country. It comes of course from the teaching profession. They say that their task will be impossible if there are two classes of children in their classrooms. It will not be impossible; it will merely be slightly more difficult in a very few schools. I say a very few schools because of course one of the effects of the Bill in the medium term will be to accelerate the number of schools—and it is already large—which do not have corporal punishment, and that I absolutely welcome. There will also of course be a handful of schools where no parents wish to opt out.

What of the rest? We would hope—would we not? that in no school is beating handed out indiscriminately. We should be wrong of course, but that is what we would hope. All we are doing is adding one more variable to the equation with which the authorities have to deal when dealing out punishment.

I should just like to mention a couple of matters that have been mentioned in the debate today. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, said that two children in the same class could be punished in two different ways and the one who was beaten would consider that that was unfair. He said that he could firmly say that from his vast experience, it would seem. Of course that is not necessarily so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, rightly pointed out. It might be the other child who thought that it was unfair. It entirely depends on what is the alternative punishment and on the child's temperament.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, also picked out for criticism—at least I thought that it was criticism—the case of Scotland and the anomaly of pupils over 16 choosing for themselves. I understood that we were meant to disapprove not only of the difference between the two countries but also slightly of the practice in Scotland.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I think that the difference is absurd but the way to remedy it is to bring the English practice in line with the Scottish.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for pointing that out. I was not entirely clear what he meant. But the first case—for its being absurd—I would reject entirely, as I imagine would the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and other noble Lords from Scotland. Why should Scotland not have different laws, customs and habits from ourselves? There is no justification for the appalling habit of wanting to have everything the same all over the country.

I grant that if one looks at the question that is before the Secretary of State as one merely of punishment in schools this Bill deserves many of the criticisms that are levelled at it. But, on the other hand, noble Lords may think as I do—and as I have always understood both Conservatives and Liberals did—that the first question to be answered when dealing with legislation is, should Westminster interfere at all? I should have thought that the answer the Government have come up with that they should not interfere except to protect parents' rights is probably the right one.

A point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and also, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, about the problems that will happen when Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Brown at Nos. 4 and 5—was it?—Acacia Avenue have to make up their minds differently and sign their forms, and the trouble that they will have explaining to their children. If this is a Bill about education, which I think it is, nothing could be more educational for both parents and children than the discussions that they will have over that point if they differ. It is important that children get to understand the concepts involved. In fairness, children often say that this or that is unfair, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, rightly said, and of course the first thing that any sensible parent has to say is that life is unfair. But then he or she in this particular case goes on to try to see that it is made as little unfair as it can be. If there are questions which still arise, it is a matter for explanation, discussion and question. It seems to me that that is an entirely healthy situation. Fairness is extremely complex.

Of course the problem will be a slight nuisance in the lives of teachers in a small number of schools, but we are moving into a completely new age in education. Schools have been more or less, in spite of revolutions of one kind or another about which we all know, much the same for 40 years. I know that those who have worked and lived in them will say that they have changed enormously, and I have seen the changes, too. But they have been basically the same kind of institution. I do not think that in the information age of the next 40 years they will be anything like the same places. I think that this kind of Bill, this kind of discussion and this kind of problem—and I speak about the arguments on all sides—will seem wildly out of date in 20 years' time when schools are a very different kind of institution.

I know the difficulties and the realities of life in Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets and Liverpool 8 today. I have not been education spokesman of the Liberal Party for 16 years without learning many things. I know that it is difficult to visualise the local Tower Hamlets secondary school in terms of what schools will be like in 20 years' time. However, either that school will have changed to make this kind of debate and this kind of situation out of date, or that area will be a howling jungle. I am afraid to say that I should not like to forecast which. In either case I suspect that this debate and this discussion will be irrelevant. If it is a howling jungle, it will be because of poverty, the lack of privilege, and the lack of dealing with it of which I lay a very large amount at the door of this Government. But in this Government there is at least one outstanding sensitive and highly intelligent man: the present Secretary of State for Education. He has an extremely subtle mind and in this Bill he has struck a blow for the ordinary parent against collective bureaucracy. I congratulate him on it.

1.1 p.m.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, in joining all the other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who have spoken in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on her first major appearance on a Bill, I assure her that in no case is it a mere courtesy. All of us were extremely impressed with the eloquence and confidence that she showed in making a very bad Bill almost plausible. I shall not try to compete with my noble friend Lord Stewart and my noble friend Lord Houghton in giving additional information as to why they think it is so bad.

However, in parenthesis I should like to say this. I was absolutley shocked at the revelation of my noble friend Lord Houghton that he had been subjected to corporal punishment as a result of lack of endeavour. I have had the privilege of knowing the noble Lord for 35 years of his parliamentary life. Whatever else one might feel, I do not think that that is an allegation or a criticism that can ever be put against him. Certainly I am sure none of your Lordships will ever suggest that he shows a lack of effort in his work in the contribution that he makes here.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord is as against corporal punishment as I am, but would he not agree that this is an unfortunate proof that corporal punishment works? The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has been a reformed person ever since.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I think perhaps there may be two opinions about that, as to what may happen when the Question is put at the end of this debate. In any case, I do not accept that one example should decide a matter of this sort. I think it is quite clear that the parliamentary draftsmen were told to produce a Bill which will permit us to keep as much corporal punishment as we can but at least to take us through any further cases that might come before the European Court on Human Rights. I am not even sure that they have succeeded in that, having regard to the very imprecise wording of the European code of human rights because, under that, almost any ministerial decision, if we were foolish enough to embody it in our statutes, could be a matter of question for argument before that Court.

In my view, it is not a terribly important Bill, although I know that in some cases, on one side or the other, it gives rise to very strong views. I am bound to say that I was extremely surprised that it should have been thought of such importance as to convene your Lordships' House especially for this purpose on a Friday. It has been only as the debate has gone on that I have understood quite clearly why this happened. It was as a result of the fear that if it had been on another day, when many more members of your Lordships' House were likely to be here, the Bill might have been rejected by an unholy coalition of those who believed in corporal punishment, on the one hand, and those who were dead against it on the other, led by my noble friend Lord Houghton into the Not-Contents Lobby.

I think it is by any test an extremely unsatisfactory Bill. I have never had very strong views about the principle of corporal punishment. On many occasions I have declined to become involved in proposals for legislation, thinking that it was a matter best left to the discretion of teachers and governors of schools. However, both within the teaching world and outside, the climate of opinion has changed, and quite apart from the recent decision of the European Court. I now favour the abolition of corporal punishment.

However, we should not allow a fairly simple issue, which in my view should be decided "Yes" or "No", to be the subject of such a complicated bureaucratic procedure as is proposed by this Bill. I believe that it will make discipline in schools almost impossible, whether or not one believes in corporal punishment. I cannot see how a teacher with a class of children, some of whom are subject to corporal punishment and some who are not, will not be in very great difficulties. I can recall that, not on the question of corporal punishment but on all kinds of other questions, from a very early stage my children would come up with the phrase, "It is not fair". This is a frequent comment of children on all manner of things.

I can recall that later on, older boys, in describing a headmaster or a teacher, may say, "He is a real devil"—or use stronger language which I would not use in your Lordships' House—"but at least he is a just devil". I think most children have a very highly developed sense of justice. Unhappily, perhaps in most of our cases it becomes dimmed as we grow up. Certainly in schools I think there is this highly developed sense of justice. I do not for one moment believe that it would be acceptable to have this system of registers, and so on.

Perhaps I may just dispose of the difficulty to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, referred concerning the age of 16 in Scotland. It is not that I necessarily want Scotland to be different. However, what seems to me an extraordinary concept in the Bill is that a 16-year old can go to the school authorities and say, "Please put me down on the list so that I may be caned". I should have thought that that was an almost impossible expectation. If you must have this nonsense of registers, I should think the most simple method would be to make the age of 16 an age above which corporal punishment cannot be employed against children, either in Scotland or in any other part of the United Kingdom.

There is also great merit in the point that my noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham very clearly made. That is that many parents will be frightened by forms. From my wife's teaching experiences some years ago, I know that some of the children in London schools have to act as interpreters for their parents. Many of the parents come here with very little grasp of the English language. I think many requests for exemption will not be submitted from the working class and particularly from people from ethnic minorities. This will create great problems in the schools. If there must be a system of parental choice, I should have thought that it should be the other way round: that parents who wish their children to be subject to corporal punishment should take that initiative. I think that that is the way it should be dealt with, rather than the way that is now proposed, of parents having to ask specifically for their children to be exempt. The real point is that we should have clarity; and if, as I agree we should, we are to conform to the European Convention on Human Rights, we should abolish corporal punishment in all our schools.

I wonder also about the complicated provisions which mean that independent schools will be excluded except for the possibility that a handful of pupils who are there in some form of assisted place or under some other scheme by which they receive funds from public sources, either national or local authority, will be subject to parental opting out and will also carry, as one tended to do and as I certainly did as a schoolboy, the stigma in the conversation of some of being a scholarship kid. That will be added to someone whose parents have said that they should not be subject to the cane. It seems to me that much thought needs to be given to see whether we cannot work out a system that would meet our obligations in Europe and at the same time make it better rather than more difficult for our teachers to sustain discipline in schools.

1.11 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships and especially to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for not being in my place when she opened the debate. I had a meeting at the National Gallery which I did not think would be over, even by this time, to enable me to take part. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for giving way and allowing me to speak.

Debates in your Lordships' House on corporal punishment nearly always lead to a flood of reminiscence. I have no intention of adding to that flood especially since, as a small boy, before going to my public school, I was at a school where if, more than once in one term, one made a false concordance in Latin, one was automatically beaten. The reminiscence to which I thought I should refer relates to my experience on the Public Schools Commission. Very early in its deliberations, we made it clear to headmasters and governing bodies of public schools with whom we were engaged in discussions that under no circumstances would any child from the maintained system be given an assisted place at a public school if that school still continued the barbarous practice of boys beating other boys. It is interesting that even before the commission had reported, the public schools had, by tacit consent, abolished that particular custom. Indeed, many of them have gone further and have abolished corporal punishment entirely. I understand that at enlightened schools such as Eton, the birch and the block are now curiosities of historical interest rather than items of current technology.

Corporal punishment arouses great passions. This Bill, at any rate, will diminish it. It is certainly a step in the right direction. I do not believe that it is possible for the system to continue much longer. I suspect that even when this Bill is passed, as no doubt it will be, the European Commission will probably have cases before it which will mean, in the end, that the system is abolished. How can this country continue to be the one country among all civilised nations that still continues the practice of corporal punishment?

I do not want to emphasise the points that have been made with great cogency by other speakers on the absurdity of trying to distinguish between pupils who can be punished and those who have opted out of the system. All that I would say is that in discussing this matter—I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to say something about this, even though it may not form part of the contents of the Bill—we should have regard not merely to the children but to the teachers. The opposition to abolition of corporal punishment has very often come from the teachers in the schools. The opposition has come because of the ill-discipline in the schools where teachers are today spat upon, kicked, assaulted and intimidated by unruly members of the school.

I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell us what measures the Government think are necessary when corporal punishment is abolished. This, it seems to me, is a matter of great importance. In other countries, very severe penalties can be taken against children who offend in this way. The penalties are meted out to the child sometimes, but very often they are meted out to the parents of that child. I would ask the noble Baroness whether something more cannot be done in this respect in our schools. It must be brought home to the parents of children who are unruly that it is they who are responsible for their child's bad behaviour.

I ask for enlightenment here. Is it possible to fine such parents? Is it possible to bring penalties of one kind or another upon such parents? And what, if such penalties are incapable of being imposed, can be done to the child? In a French school, where discipline is extremely severe, although there is no corporal punishment, the child is subject to very severe penalties. The child is also capable, in the end, of being expelled from the school. This is, of course, always the safeguard that the independent schools have. The independent schools know perfectly well that they could, if they so wished, abolish corporal punishment because expulsion from the school is the ultimate penalty.

The parent has no remedy whatever. He has sent his child to that school; he pays his fees. If the child does not comply with the rules of the school, then the school is fully entitled to get rid of him. What does the noble Baroness feel should be done about that point in our maintained system? We, in the House, must take into account the feelings of teachers on the matter. I bow to no one in my opposition to the system of corporal punishment as it is at present in our schools. However, those who are in favour of its abolition have a duty to consider the plight of the teachers particularly in the tough urban schools where they suffer very great disadvantages. I hope very much that something can be done to force parents to discipline their children before they get to the schools.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether he knows of the growing practice whereby, when children are very difficult in school, a meeting is called of the parents, the education department, the child and the social services and a scheme drawn up with the agreement of all of them, perhaps for a change of school, perhaps for a change of boarding school or day school? In that way, parents, child and teacher are helped.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I am very much indebted for that information. I am sure this occurs at good schools and I am sure it occurs with good parents, because when children become unruly it is not always the parents' fault. Nevertheless, I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that there are many parents who take the side of their unruly child and join in the intimidation of and assault upon teachers.

1.20 p.m.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lord, I apologise to your Lordships for rising to my feet. I purposely did not put my name down, but I should like to make one point. There were several things that I had intended to say, but the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said them all for me. I should like to underline, as regards the Bill, that one cannot have discrimination, whether one approves of corporal punishment or whether one does not.

I approve both ways. Corporal punishment can be overdone and it can be underdone. One day when I was at school, I got into a lot of trouble, through no fault of my own, and was due for a hell of a beating—and it proved to be a hell of a beating! I telephoned my father and he said, "If you are stupid enough to get yourself into a scrape you must get yourself out of it or take the consequences".

We are far too namby-pamby today; at least, I think we are. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, there are spoilt children and there are hard-done-by children. But whatever one's personal point of view one cannot have discrimination. Either we have corporal punishment or we do not; otherwise, we undermine all authority in the schools.

1.22 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, while I warmly welcome, as other noble Lords have, the noble Baroness to the Dispatch Box to steer her first Bill through your Lordships' House, one can only commiserate with her on the nature of the Bill. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, would have taken the task on his own broad shoulders had he been well enough. We wish him a speedy recovery.

The sweet reasonableness of the presentation by the noble Baroness—I think "elegant argument" was the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart—should not lull us into an easy acceptance of this Bill. We have heard arguments for and against the Bill—I think, on balance, mainly against. From whatever philosophical position it is approached it is riddled with inconsistencies and anomalies; and if not totally unworkable, it certainly cannot work well. Bad thinking makes bad legislation, and this is an unsatisfactory Bill. I think that was the description used by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, went further and called it a "silly" Bill. I think he said it was the silliest Bill to come before your Lordships' House in his experience. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said it was plain "dotty". I am sorry to have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, as a former mentor, when he said that it is a step in the right direction. If that is the case it certainly seems to me to be a remarkably clumsy step.

The Secretary of State understandably on grounds of cost and impracticality rejected a so-called dual system of giving parents the choice between beating and non-beating schools. Having rejected the option of abolition, he then boxed himself into the absurdity of a dual system in one and the same classroom. In my view that can only put the most undesirable pressures on everyone concerned. The school will have the added burden of maintaining a register, corresponding with parents, and keeping it up to date. The teachers will be confronted with two categories of child in one and the same room, and presumably will have to hold in their heads which child belongs to which category. Parents will be put under pressure by their children, either to exempt them or, possibly, to include them on the register: in a beating school it may well be the "in" thing to be on the register, and the "wets" who are exempt may well be discriminated against.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the flood of reminiscence which is normally engendered in this sort of debate. I shall only add to it by recalling that at one time at one of my schools I held the record for the number of strokes received. I think it was 59 strokes. Such was the ethos of the school and the prestige of those strokes that I was something of a hero. I am sure that that sort of climate can still persist, and does, in some places today. Where a class is dominated by a group of rowdies one can perfectly well imagine pressure being put on children to ask their parents to take them off the exempted list and put them on the beating list, in total contradiction to the philosophical convictions of the parents which this Bill is supposed to protect.

There are other anomalies in the Bill. It allows corporal punishment to avert "an immediate danger … to property". How is this to be interpreted? Can you beat a child for playing with a ball which goes through a window? That is certainly damage to property, and glass is very expensive these days. It is difficult to know how that is to be interpreted. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, thought it inevitable—and here I must say I agree with him—that we shall eventually end up in the same camp as our European partners and that corporal punishment will in due course disappear from all our schools. However, the question is: how do you get there?

Almost everyone professionally concerned is against the Bill. The Association of Directors of Social Services is against it. The Society of Education Officers, the people who run education in local education authorities, is against it. The National Association of Head Teachers, who will have to administer and police it, are against it. Respected organisations like MIND are against it. Only this morning a letter arrived on my desk from the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association quoting a resolution from their last conference. I quote: Assembly considers that the Government's legislative response to the findings of the European Commission and Count of Human Rights in cases involving corporal punishment will impose upon schools a policy which is inconsistent, inequitable and educationally unsound". These are the people who are in the front line on this matter.

My noble and learned friend Lord Wilson regretted the decision of the court, but this certainly did not, if I understood him correctly, lead him to think very much of the Bill. Obviously one must respect the passion for diversity and devolution of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, but I must make clear that both the Alliance spokesmen, when this Bill was debated at Second Reading in another place, were roundly against it and in favour of further steps towards abolition. I imagine we shall have a free vote when we come to the Committee stage, but I certainly am of their opinion.

In fact, I very much agree with my honourable friend Mr. Robert Maclennan in another place. He regretted that the Secretary of State for Education and Science had not followed the example of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who had advised local authorities to proceed with abolition; and they are in the process of doing that. As is so often the case, these things are done better north of the Border.

Various noble Lords have speculated on whether the Bill can be amended or improved. I think that my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson felt that it would be very difficult to amend. He described the Bill as the worst of a bad job, and he had doubts as to whether it could be turned into the best of a bad job. I think his suggestion was that the Government should take the whole thing back and look at it again. I must say that I agree with him on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, indicated that he might want to press this Second Reading to a Division. One can sympathise with his frustration, but I am afraid that we, who are to some extent the guardians of the conventions of the House, must tell him that if he were to do that, we would have to abstain. In my view the only good thing that might come out of this Bill is that local authorities and governing bodies will throw up their hands in despair and proceed to abolition as the only sane alternative.

1.31 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box on an educational matter. I agree that she put up a spirited defence of the Bill, but she is going to need all her intelligence and ingenuity to put up a further defence after the lively and strong criticisms that there have been of the Bill during the debate.

She has had no support from her own Benches at all, and no one behind her really to support her, which I am not surprised at. Everyone on this side, except for the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has been against the Bill, and strongly so. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, was perhaps relying on his own experience as a teacher, but with all respect, that was perhaps not very recent experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, surprised me, I confess, by his defence. What surprised me even more was his defence of the Secretary of State and his praise for him for not being a centraliser and for devolving power. I cannot help wondering what the local authority associations, which have been so cross about the powers which have been taken from them, would have to say to that.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? What powers has the present Secretary of State for Education taken from them? I contrasted him, your Lordships will remember, with the rest of his colleagues in the Cabinet. What powers has he taken from them?

Baroness David

My Lords, he has imposed the TVEI scheme, which has taken from the local authorities the power to decide what goes on in the schools. He has taken away 25 per cent. of the money for the non-advanced further education. I am sure that I could think of other examples if I were to continue. There certainly have been quite a lot.

The Bill is, by general consent, a ridiculous piece of legislation. Even the Secretary of State when introducing the Bill showed little enthusiasm for it. He said: I am sure that many honourable Members find aspects of the Bill distasteful". That was in col. 39 of the Official Report of the House of Commons on 28th January. Again, he said: It may not be ideal, but it is better than abolition or a dual system". That was in col. 40.

We would agree with him that a dual system—that is, some schools where corporal punishment is used and some where it is not—would entail enormous practical difficulties, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas where there could be no choice of school. However, this Bill also entails enormous practical difficulties. We would not agree that it is better than abolition, which is what we want.

We contend that the Bill is unworkable, that it will lead to injustice, and will be recognised as unfair by both children and staff. The noble Baroness tried to counter that point, but I do not think she did it convincingly. Two children having committed the same offence would have to be treated differently if one was on the register in regard to corporal punishment and the other was not. That seems to me intolerable, and must seem intolerable to the children. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Stewart said, it seemed so to the former Lord Advocate who has just retired to become a judge. He put foward that view when he was a Member of the Government.

Then there are the administrative complications. The register that is to be compiled with the names on it of those pupils who may be beaten depends on the parents receiving and responding to a letter sent out by the school. Posts are not totally reliable. Some people are bad at answering letters. Some parents are in fact illiterate, or just cannot read English. My noble friends Lord Stewart and Lord Mulley raised the point that the ethnic minorities may be at a great disdavantage here.

Will a second letter be sent if there is no response to the first? Will a visit be made to the home by the educational welfare officer or some member of staff if there is still no answer? Will children be put on, or left off, the register if no reply ever comes? One hopes that children's names will not be put on the register unless there is definite evidence that parents are willing for their children to be beaten.

What is the position if parents disagree? Will separated parents have to consult each other? Will foster parents, guardians, social service departments where children are in care, all have the right to reply to the letter? What happens if parents change their minds?

Let us suppose that there are some errors in compiling the register. Secretaries are human, and they can make mistakes. There may be several children at the school with the same name. How are staff to know who is on the register and who is not? Will there be delays while the teacher halts the lesson and goes to the office to discover whether or not the offending child is beatable? Will children in the two groups be asked to wear appropriate labels, "Beatable", "Unbeatable"?

Sir Keith Joseph said, at col. 45 on 28th January: the thought is that regulations will provide for a few days between the decision and the effectiveness of that decision so that the teacher concerned can have no doubt about the position. Time is provided for a name to be put on or taken off the register without any misunderstanding". That surely is absurd. If a child is to be caned, delay while registers are anxiously consulted is intolerable. Can Ministers who have gone through Committee and Report stages in another place still regard such a scenario as anything but farcical?

It seems to me that there is no let out for the head or teacher who makes a genuine mistake in good faith. The Bill says in Clause 1(5): a pupil is exempt from corporal punishment by a member of the staff except at a time when— … the member of the staff believes on reasonable grounds that he is so shown in such a register". What are reasonable grounds? Who is to define them? I hope that the noble Baroness will comment on that when she replies. Whatever happens there will be an extra burden of paperwork for already overworked staff, and there will be extra financial cost.

So much for the practical complications, There are other important considerations raised by the Bill in relation to both Europe and the law. Do we want to be the odd man out in Europe? Britain is alone in Europe, East and West, in allowing the practice of corporal punishment. Poland took the lead towards abolition at the end of the 18th century. France, Belgium, and Austria outlawed it over a century ago.

Now for the legal arguments. Sir Keith, at Second Reading, at col. 39 referred to: the one overriding factor that the country does not break its treaty obligations". With the Bill in its present form this country will be doing just that. As long as corporal punishment is practised, with parental consent or not, this country is open to prosecution in Europe for infringement of Article 3 of the human rights convention. Thirty cases are pending at present. It is likely that at least £4 million will be awarded in damages and costs against this Government.

Again, the Bill makes no provision for pupils in fully private education. Yet prosecutions can still be brought under Article 2 of Protocol 1, as in the Campbell and Cosans case. By attempting to avoid liabilities under both articles without moving to abolition the Bill achieves neither object. It is a futile attempt to reconcile a decision of the European Court with the prejudices which were enshrined in the previous law of this country. It is a profoundly useless and craven piece of legislation which does more harm than good.

There have been a number of reports over the years that have independently arrived at conclusions that similarly support abolition. They show that beating schools have higher levels of delinquency, that higher levels of corporal punishment resulted in worse behaviour and more pupils appearing in court. Such reports are: J. W. Palmer: Smoking, Caning and Delinquency, 1965; Clegg and Megson: Children in Distress, 1968; Reynolds: Absenteeism in South Wales, 1977, and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities: Discipline in Scottish Schools, 1981.

I should like to say a word about Scotland, although other noble Lords have referred to it. The Secretary of State for Scotland has been wiser than his English counterpart and has encouraged the gradual elimination of corporal punishment on a voluntary basis. The process has largely been completed and this is the sensible approach. There is the oddity, as has been mentioned, of 16- and 17-year-olds being able to make their own decisions. I think that if we have the Bill at all young people of 16 and 17 should have the choice in England and Wales; and no doubt we shall be moving an amendment in Committee.

It seems to me that the only sensible thing for the Government to have done was to introduce a Bill to abolish corporal punishment, but to give a year for it to be phased out so that those schools which made a certain amount of use of it would have time to set up alternative forms of discipline. These could cost money, and the Secretary of State should face up to that. He said: As to extra expenditure arising from alternatives to corporal punishment, I reject the notion that there must be expensive alternatives". There may be some alternatives, like the withdrawal of rewards and privileges, that will not cost money. There could be suspension or expulsion, but I would look on those as exacerbating the problem. I support the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in asking for proper replies on what the Government's answer is about alternatives, because I do not think Sir Keith gave satisfactory ones on Second Reading in another place.

There are other ways of approaching indiscipline which will be more effective because they look at the cause of the problem. There must be adequate pastoral care and counselling, not done at the expense of the curriculum, and space to do the counselling. Assessment units or other special centres need to be set up either within the schools or separately. The lack of resource input into the implementation of the Education Act 1981 is already causing difficulties. Children who have special educational needs and who previously would have been in special schools are now in mainstream education, where they make inordinate demands on teachers' time and, if they do not receive adequate attention, may work out their frustrations in disruptive behaviour. There must be adequate staff, adequate space and adequate resources.

This Bill will not work. The best one can say for it is that it may lead to abolition but by the back door. Why cannot the Government give a lead as it is their duty to do? In matters of legislation for social problems such as divorce, abortion, homosexuality, it is for Parliament to be ahead of the population as a whole. There should have been a free vote on this Bill. The Secretary of State seems afraid to bring in abolition because of the opinion polls which showed a year ago that about half the teachers and a good many parents were in favour of the retention of corporal punishment. The Secretary of State does not always pay heed to the advice he receives, and opinion polls seem to be very odd systems on which to base legislation.

The main teacher unions are against corporal punishment, and the previously retentionist National Association for Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers and the Professional Association of Teachers have accepted that abolition would be preferable to the proposals in the Bill. Local authority opinion is against it; witness statements from the ACC, the AMA and the Society of Education Officers. Some 23 LEAs have already abolished corporal punishment and these include large conurbations where the most difficult problems are to be found. That is some answer to the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Three more authorities have a date set for abolition, 17 are committed but with no date yet fixed, and 25 more are considering it.

I want to ask the noble Baroness whether or not decisions already made by LEAs can be overturned by individual governing bodies, as appears to be the case from Clause 3(2) and Clause 4(1)(a). It is not clear from discussion in Committee and at Report in another place what the legal position under the Bill will be. Mr. Dunn gave no definitive statement that I could find. He said: the Bill is broadly neutral".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/85; col. 68.] That is not good enough. The Bill must be absolutely clear and definite on this or many more court cases could follow.

Not only are the teacher unions and the local authority associations against the Bill, but so are the professions. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the National Children's Bureau, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Association of Educational Psychologists and many others are included. I should like to quote briefly from the statement from the educational psychologists: There is evidence that children imitate the actions of their elders, and that methods of child-rearing depending heavily on punishment of a physically aggressive kind produce children who themselves behave in a physically violent fashion. Children who are beaten tend in their turn to beat and bully". We have heard a lot recently from the Prime Minister and others about the iniquities of football hooliganism and other forms of vandalism, and they have rightly condemned them. Does it not seem odd that in the light of all the evidence from professional bodies the Government should be sanctioning corporal punishment in schools and by bringing violence into the classroom giving young people the idea that it is an acceptable form of behaviour?

My noble friend Lord Rea referred to the Protection of Minors Bill, introduced by my noble friend Lady Wootton on 10th December 1973. It aimed at abolishing corporal punishment. She made out an excellent case and I shall quote a different extract from her opening speech: In principle, I regard the use of corporal punishment on children in school as wholly out of keeping with modern educational methods. It can hardly foster a love of learning, and if it induces respect for the teacher, it is respect of might and not of right. I find it also anomalous that the law which forbids adults to assault one another should give less, rather than more, protection to children. I find it even more anomalous that in this respect the penal system is ahead of the educational system. Corporal punishment in all types of penal institutions—and this includes borstals—was abolished after it had been demonstrated that it was ineffective in the light of the subsequent records of those who had been subjected to it".—[Official Report, 19/12/73; col. 875.] Lord James of Rusholme, in the same debate, said: the harm of corporal punishment goes a good deal further than its effect on the frightened child. I am referring to the more subtle damage to the atmosphere of an educative community and to the proper development of the individuals in it when authority has to rest on the infliction of physical pain".—[col. 947.] The case for total abolition could not be made better. That Bill was defeated and the reason the Government gave was that the unions and the local authorities were against it. As I have shown, that is not the case 12 years on in 1985. There is no support there for the Bill. In 1982 a circular from the Church of England General Synod Board of Education called on all Anglican schools to: phase out and ultimately abolish the practice of corporal punishment". Why, of why, in the face of all these impressive statements from so many quarters, has the Secretary of State not followed that good advice and done just that, instead of producing this monstrous folly?

My noble friend Lord Houghton says that he is intending to call "Not-Content" when the time comes for a decision. I have every sympathy with him and I wish very much that this Bill would not have a Second Reading; but we stand by the traditions of this House of not voting against a Bill which has passed through another place and we do not make a habit of voting against Government Bills at Second Reading. But could not the noble Baroness please persuade her right honourable friend the Secretary of State to think again before it is too late and waste no more time, effort or money in putting this silly Bill on to the statute book?

1.50 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have been so kind in their welcoming remarks to me, particularly in a situation where I seem to be batting on a very unpopular wicket—unpopular, at least, in your Lordships' House.

First, I should like to repeat the words of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science in another place—and they are words which I totally endorse. He said: The ideal would have been to leave things as they were, largely unregulated by statute. That … was not possible. The court found us in breach of the Convention … and we cannot pick and choose the judgments with which we comply".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/85; col. 79.] In response to that this Bill adopts a pragmatic approach. Without obliging pupils to change schools, without creating a high administrative burden and without taking a centralist line on abolition, it offers parents a new right. If I may say so, the difficulties have been greatly exaggerated, as I hope perhaps to show to some extent. An exemption scheme can work. Schools wishing to retain corporal punishment will make it work, and parents, acting responsibly, can assist the process.

A very large number of detailed points have been made in debate today. Some of them obviously can be pursued during the Committee stage. Some I can try to respond to immediately.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, asked in effect what would happen if local education authorities have already abolished corporal punishment. He asked whether they would be required to change their policies. It is not intended that the legislation will alter the constitutional relationships between head teachers, school governing bodies and local education authorities. Where, or to the extent that, it is now lawful for a local education authority to ban corporal punishment in some or all of its schools, our aim is to leave that position unchanged. In the Government's view such local authorities should leave these decisions to schools, but we have deliberately refrained from introducing into the Bill provisions which would force local education authorities along that road.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether there will be in the Bill an overriding power, so that local authorities which have banned corporal punishment can stick to that whatever the governing bodies of their schools may say?

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I understand that a local education authority can legally abolish corporal punishment now. The intention is that the Bill will not allow a governing body to overturn that decision.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, also asked what would happen if parents differed in their opinions about whether or not their child or children should be subject to corporal punishment. Most parents, I think it can be expected, are likely to come to a joint decision, as they do on many issues relating to the education of their children; but we envisage that where parents disagree the parent seeking an exemption will be able to insist upon it despite the views of his or her spouse. The court has ruled that a conviction against corporal punishment amounts to a philosophical conviction under the Convention and must be respected, come what may. It has not ruled that a conviction in favour of corporal punishment must be respected; and we doubt that it ever would be.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, further asked what would happen if parents do not respond. He also referred to a question which was raised by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, about parents who might be at a disadvantage in terms of either social class or ethnic minority background and who might therefore find it difficult to respond to forms. In regard to the first point, if a parent does not respond after six weeks, the school may make the pupil liable to corporal punishment, provided that a reminder has been issued. If parents do not understand, surely it is reasonable to expect the schools to help them. We hope that a standardised form which will be prepared will be simple and straightforward, but we recognise that there are some groups, including perhaps particularly some of the ethnic minorities for whom the English language is not a first language, who might be disadvantaged. In those cases I am sure that the schools will do their best to communicate and to take special care in their communication with those parents for whom English is a second language. I may say that this is not a new problem and that schools are aware that effort is required to make effective contact with such parents.

The noble Lord also asked about the anomaly in the differences between England, Wales and Scotland. As I think has been said, the legal position is different north and south of the Border. In Scotland young people of 16 to 17 have certain responsibilities and rights which are not shared by their counterparts in England and Wales. This Bill reflects those differences. I accept that in this country there are some legal distinctions to be drawn between those who are over 16 and those who are under 16. But it remains true that until young persons in England and Wales reach the age of majority, parents still have a wide responsibility for the behaviour of their children, and surely it is right that the in loco parentis concept should extend to them.

Another point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, was echoed in many other speeches in the debate, especially by my noble friend Lady Faithful, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird. All of them expressed great concern about the problems of apparent injustice from anomalies which can arise when different punishments are used for essentially the same offence. This clearly is potentially a human problem, but such anomalies arise now. I think that what matters is that the punishment should be seen to be just and appropriate. Surely it is best to leave to the good judgment of the professional teacher on the spot the decision regarding the most appropriate punishment.

Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that the majority of parents and many teachers now find it appropriate to use corporal punishment. With regard to the application of different punishments to pupils in the same situation, presumably teachers can adjust punishments to assure comparable punishment for pupils who have committed the same misdemeanour. We shall come back to the range of alternative punishments which might be available following the abolition of corporal punishment when I try to meet the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Annan.

Another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, to which I may respond briefly was: Why are we in Britain different from almost every other country? I think this point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. It is true that European countries, both eastern and western, do not allow corporal punishment; but perhaps I might draw your Lordships' attention to what I think was a slight error made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, when he said that every other civilised country has abolished corporal punishment. I hope that the noble Lord would agree that perhaps some of the other Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and Canada, might be classed civilised, as well as many of the states of the USA, and they retain corporal punishment.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, also raised the point about the Bill extending to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The island authorities are aware of the Bill. They are considering how they should bring their arrangements into line with the judgment of the European Courts in the case of Campbell and Cosans, which underpins this whole discussion.

The final point that I might take up from the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, referred to whether or not future cases before the European Commission of Human Rights in which the claim is made that corporal punishment amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment may not render this discussion anachronistic. At the moment the Government are defending all these cases, and perhaps it is appropriate to say that opponents of corporal punishment should not jump to conclusions about the outcome.

If I may turn very briefly to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, he did concede that the Government's efforts represented—I think I quote his words— a brave try: could do better. I certainly welcome his qualified praise that it is a brave try. I think we are aware that some of the concerns that he expressed are very real ones; and of course they can be considered and reconsidered during the later stages of the Bill. The noble Lord also referred particularly to consultations with Scotland and he said that no one from the Scottish Office had attended or spoken in the other place. Perhaps I may just point out that representatives of the Scottish Office have attended debates and participated during the Committee stage in another place.

Turning to the particular concerns expressed by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, she was, she told us, deeply concerned about: injustice, conflict and a sense of guilt". I hope that I have touched, even though your Lordships may feel inadequately so, on the concept of injustice in the classroom in the remarks I have already made. So far as conflict is concerned, and particularly the possible conflict to which my noble friend referred—that between parents and children—I should point out that I think we must accept that parents, and indeed teachers, have a responsibility to care for and exercise discipline over their children. What this Bill is seeking to do is to bring about a meeting of minds between schools and parents, and indeed between those very adults who have the best interests of children at heart.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for his kind remarks regarding the concerns that we share in the health field, even though we plainly take different positions here, particularly with regard to his definition of what he called the "undemocratic nature" of this Bill. I would argue that this Bill is essentially democratic, in that it allows schools and parents to have a choice rather than resorting to an enforced imposition of the abolition of corporal punishment. I might mention that, from the recent MORI Poll, not only to the majority of parents, as I said in my opening remarks, favour the retention of corporal punishment but so indeed do the majority of teachers surveyed in another MORI Poll. Therefore I would say that this is democratic rather than undemocratic.

The noble Lord also raised the possible psychological effects of corporal punishment. I think it is important to remind your Lordships that, if any school takes the view that corporal punishment is undesirable, it is free to abandon it. That freedom is already available and is not changed by anything in the Bill. A school may change its policy with regard to corporal punishment. So far as the psychological effects are concerned, may I say that I am sure that teachers, for the most part, are highly sensitive to the psychology of pupils. After all, they deal day after day with the practical problems which are thrown up by pupils when they are living and learning together. I do not think we should use legislation to deprive teachers of a measure which they and the parents believe is not harmful.

I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that I welcome his support, for which I am very grateful, and I note his reservations. He spoke of fairness, and I would acknowledge that feelings run very high on this issue but, as I have said, I have already tried to address this problem in response to earlier speakers.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in his general inveighing against the Bill, raised a number of points and I will try to address myself to one or two of them. He referred to separated parents. If separated parents disagree, the parent opposed to corporal punishment can claim exemption and can override the opposite view of his or her partner.

The noble Lord also referred to the word "battery" in highly emotive terms. Perhaps I may point out that "battery", in the context of this Bill, includes also much lesser measures than beating or caning: it includes taps, smacks and slaps. I can reassure the noble Lord: if a teacher exceeds the limits of moderate and reasonable corporal punishment, that teacher is liable to civil or criminal proceedings. That is the case now and it is not changed by this Bill.

The noble Lord also expressed grave doubts about the practicality of implementing this Bill and particularly over the difficulty of using registers. It is not necessary, I think, to envisage a situation where a teacher would have to consult a register every time a slap or a smack might be appropriate. Surely a teacher must be aware of his or her pupils and must know them well; and it does not mean that a teacher would always need to have recourse to a register. There are ways in which a teacher could have "a ready reckoner" to remind himself or herself of which pupils were liable to receive corporal punishment.

The noble Lord also asked about the complexities of the Bill as such. If schools believe that an exemption scheme is too complex a matter for them, I reiterate that of course they are free to abolish corporal punishment. That is a course readily available to them. Indeed, if they do nothing by September 1986, that is precisely what will happen—the school will become a non-corporal punishment school without further ado.

I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that I am delighted that, despite our previous differences on other educational issues, we speak as one on this Bill. I greatly welcome this generous support, and particularly the reasons for his support, in that he sees it as being in the best traditions of liberalism. I also particularly welcome his support as regards respecting the wishes of parents and the fact that the Bill is trying to promote decentralisation of decision-making and a diversity of policies according to local wishes.

The noble Lord, Lord Mulley raised problems likely to be encountered by parents from socially disadvantaged and ethnic backgrounds who might not be able to complete forms. I have tried already to answer that one. He also raised the question of independent schools and why they may be exempt from the provisions of this Bill. Our reading of the European Convention on Human Rights is that the Court's judgment in the case of Campbell and Cosans does not oblige us to include independent schools. The United Kingdom will have discharged its obligations under the convention if, through the maintained sector, we have offered adequate provisions which parents with convictions against corporal punishment could choose if they wished. In any case, most parents who send their children to independent schools do so of their own accord, and the state is not directly responsible for the provision of the education in independent schools.

The noble Lord also asked why we are in effect going for "opting in" rather than "opting out". It has been said that the number of parents claiming objection will be in a minority and that to list a minority of names is less of an administrative chore than the listing of a majority. However, the difficulty with that argument is that a teacher using corporal punishment would be acting in the absence of a record: lost or delayed exemption claims would not find their way on to the register and the school would be running a risk. That risk is reduced significantly by listing all those who could be caned. The scheme as envisaged aims at a fail-safe system minimising errors and misunderstandings.

I tried to answer one of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, with regard to other countries which still retain corporal punishment. He also raised the very difficult question of sanctions following the abolition of corporal punishment. There is a range of sanctions which can be applied, but I share very much his concern for teachers who are in very difficult classroom situations and who are having to try to maintain standards of discipline, courtesy and order, perhaps against very difficult odds.

Examples of the kinds of sanction which might well be available include the withdrawal of rewards and privileges, particularly if the reward or privilege withdrawn is something that is highly valued by the pupil. Other possible sanctions are to send pupils to the head of department or to the head of the school, perhaps for reprimand, which may be a sanction in itself. There is the opportunity of imposing offence—related tasks, such as clearing up litter if dropping litter has been one offence. There may be a demand for additional homework, although many teachers avoid that because it encourages pupils to associate a particular subject with a chore. It may be possible to impose other tasks, such as lines. It may be possible to involve parents through a letter or a special report; and for secondary pupils it may be possible to impose a detention, although that has cost implications.

Moving on very briefly towards the end of my closing remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, asked about the definition of damage to property or the person which might justify the use of corporal punishment. Immediate danger to personal property is very hard to define in general terms. The facts of the case will generally determine it. In very many cases, the cause of immediate danger is obvious. In any event, the Bill is a provision simply to reinforce the existing right, and indeed the duty, to act reasonably to protect third parties. The noble Lord also said that many official bodies have spoken in favour of the complete abolition of corporal punishment. We are aware that that is the case, but one might comment that this could be another example of where, sometimes, the leadership might be out of line with the rank and file.

Turning, finally, to some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David, I am not able to deal with all of them but I am sure that we shall have a chance of discussing the others later. Among the points she raised was that the postal services are not reliable. It is fair to say that many schools will use personal contact, especially when parents come to a school to discuss academic progress, and will make sure that they receive letters in that way. The noble Baroness also asked what are "reasonable grounds" under Clause 1(5)(b). The answer, as I understand it, is that the courts will decide in the ultimate event. The concept of reasonableness is, however, in common use.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the total undesirability of introducing violence into the classroom and said that corporal punishment is actually doing that. May I remind your Lordships that in this Bill we are talking in terms of moderate and reasonable corporal punishment and not about extreme acts of violence. Finally—and this is the last question to which I can reply—the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked about decisions by local authorities being overturned by governing bodies. As I think I indicated earlier, if a local education authority can legally abolish corporal punishment now, the intention is that the Bill will not allow the governing body to overturn that decision.

In conclusion, perhaps I may repeat what I said in my introductory remarks: that the purpose of the Bill is to comply with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. We are bound by that ruling and must legislate to bring our system into line with the Convention on Human Rights. Inaction is not open to us.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)

My Lords, the Question is that this Bill be now read a second time. As many as are of that opinion will say, Content; the contrary, Not-Content.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby


The Deputy Speaker

The Contents have it.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Viscount Long

My Lords, this is the moment when I can wish your Lordships a happy Bank Holiday.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes past two o'clock.