HL Deb 17 April 1986 vol 473 cc785-811

5.10 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Orr-Ewing moved Amendment No. 54:

Before Clause 19, insert the following new clause:

("Copies of the curricula.

. It shall be the duty of the governing body of every school to prepare up to date written statements of the school's curricula and to make copies available to parents on demand.").

The noble Lord said: I shall not detain the Committee for long on this point. I know that the Government are anxious to get on, and they have an easy way to get on, because this amendment is so much in accord with the objects of the Bill that they have only to nod their heads and say yes and we can get on to the next business. The object of the Bill is to improve relationships, strengthen the government of the schools and encourage parents to take a closer interest. The one place where the parents can take a closer interest is in the syllabus.

There has been a scheme from those who are on the extreme political Left to write their own syllabuses. Ms Christine Parker, who is head of social studies at the Lillian Bayliss School in Kennington, says, "You write your own syllabus, assess it and mark it". The hard left have also, when they have any control over schools, tended to make economies not in the administration of schools, not in the more obvious places where you could economise without affecting the standards of education of the children, but in the denial of school books. This gives people of that political persuasion a chance of writing their own syllabuses and riding their own hobby horses. Social studies is a subject in which they glorify, and they tend to concentrate on the rights of the children and the rights of the citizen and very little on their duties and responsibilities.

It is right that syllabuses should be broadly written. I am not at this stage pressing for a centralised syllabus. But we have to recognise that many countries, and particularly France, have a centralised syllabus. Children can go from school to school; you can move your children, and in the same term they can pick up exactly in the same place at the new school. There are many advantages in flexibility.

The Secretary of State suggested that we may come towards a more centralised syllabus, but we are just saying in this amendment, "Please have courage and make the governing body produce a syllabus, and that syllabus should then be available to the parents". That must be in the interests of education. When a child comes home, parents rightly try to build bridges of understanding at the evening meal and on other occasions. They ask, "What did you learn today? What were you doing?" They try to encourage their children to see films in accord with the history part of the syllabus they are studying or to make experiments in the garden shed if they are studying science or the mechanical sciences, and generally to encourage them.

If a syllabus is available to parents, they will know better when schools are running off the rails and feel more in accord and closer to the school, the governing body of the school and the teachers undertaking the teaching of their children. I am sure that the Government will be able to accept this amendment, although they have not been terribly forthcoming on a number of others that we have put forward. I beg to move.

Baroness Cox

In putting my name to this amendment I recognised that the wording was tentative. I suspect that my noble friend the Minister may say that the provisions of the Bill as they now stand meet the purpose of this amendment. I suspect that the word that we should have used is "syllabus" rather than "curriculum".

The purpose of the amendment is essentially twofold, as my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said. First, it is to enable parents and pupils the better to anticipate the content of a course to be followed during a forthcoming session, be it a term or a year, and also to help parents and pupils to assess the extent to which that course is meeting the objectives set out at the beginning of that session.

One might ask whether such an amendment is necessary. This Bill is all about parents and increasing accountability to parents. As a parent I must say adamantly yes, it is necessary. I think back to my children's education a few years ago. At the local comprehensive school my son was meant to be studying English literature in the critical GCE-CSE year. In the whole first year and almost the first part of the first term of the second, all they did in English literature was two essays on rock music. That was by way of written work in English literature in the land of Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, and so on.

So far as maths is concerned, one of my other children in the same critical two years of GCE-CSE work had a teacher who did not, so far as I could make out, believe in teaching maths. He set as homework essays on green ping-pong balls. When I asked at a parents' evening what green ping-pong balls had to do with maths, I was told that the teacher was trying to get the children to think differently. I asked, "What about trying to get them to think mathematically?"!

The example is to show that this amendment is to make sure that parents and pupils can anticipate what should be covered in a course, rather than run into problems and then look at them retrospectively, by which time perhaps months, if not a year, of a school's time—what should be a precious time, providing a child with vital ingredients of education—has been wasted, and it may be too late for that child to make up those misspent months or even a year.

I currently know of one young person in a local comprehensive school at the beginning of the first term of the second year of A-levels who still does not know the full range of books to be studied for the exam. There are cases where this amendment is necessary. It is perfectly feasible from the point of view of teachers to plan ahead and to give an outline of what they intend to do. The purpose is within the spirit of the Bill which is to enable greater accountability to parents by the schools that are responsible for their children's education.

The Earl of Swinton

The effect of this amendment would be to require the governors of all maintained schools to make available a statement of their school's curriculum on demand. My noble friends have explained, however, that what is sought is a very detailed statement; in effect, the syllabuses the pupils will study while they are at school, so that, for example, parents wishing to avoid certain views being taught to their children can make an informed choice of school based on sufficient knowledge.

The Government have sympathy with that view. The Education (School Information) Regulations 1981, made under the 1980 Act, already require the publication of particular facts about each school by the LEA or the governors of a voluntary aided school, as the case may be; those facts include particulars of the curriculum for different age groups, and of arrangements for matters such as curricula choices. Indeed, we believe that Schedule 2 of those regulations already effectively does what the wording of the amendment would achieve, at least as far as choice of school is concerned, although in the case of county and controlled schools the existing duty is on the LEA and not the governors.

As I said, however, my noble friends who have proposed this amendment want to go further than what is required by those regulations. They are looking for the detailed syllabus, and not just a statement of the curriculum, to be available to parents on demand, although in this respect their wording does not seem quite right. I doubt whether the courts would construe written statements of the school's curricula as a detailed description of the syllabuses and teaching materials to be employed.

I look round at my noble friends this time because I have happy news for them. I am very much attracted by the general principle behind the amendment. If a parent is sufficiently interested to want to go beyond the generality of what is now said by schools about their curriculum in order to learn in much more detail what his or her child will be taught, it should be possible for them to do so. It would be patronising to suggest that such matters should be left to the professionals, and deeply worrying if the parent suspected as my noble friend Lady Cox said, that political or other ideas which were repugnant to him were being presented in a biased manner. While the principle is attractive, however, the way in which that principle is stated has to be got right so that it meets every eventuality.

For these reasons, my noble friends' aims may be better achieved by regulation so that revision in the light of experience would be a good deal easier. It seems likely that the Secretary of State's current regulation-making powers under the Education Act 1980 are sufficient to allow him to make regulations in this vein. I am prepared to undertake that the Government will actively explore the practicality of securing in this way the open access to school curricula and syllabuses which my noble friends wish to see. I must add that we shall also wish to consult our education partners about any such change, as it goes beyond the consultations that preceded the 1980 Act and this Bill. However, I hope that my noble friends will be prepared, in the light of my assurances and with that encouragement, to withdraw this amendment and to allow the Government to pursue the further action that I have outlined.

Viscount Trenchard

I wonder whether my noble friend, before my other noble friend presses or withdraws his amendment, can give some idea of how long this process of consulting over the regulations will take and whether it will be possible, while the Bill is still in this House, to get something slightly firmer than he has told us today?

The Earl of Swinton

We shall continue as quickly as we can with the consultations. I cannot give an undertaking that it will be in this House because we seem to be getting later and later with this Bill. It may be here before we finish the Bill in this House. But, as I said in my answer, my right honourable friend's current regulation-making powers under this Act may be sufficient as they stand. But we wish to consult and I hope it will be as soon as possible. I cannot give an absolute promise that it will be before the Bill has left your Lordships' House, but I hope that it will be.

Lord Orr-Ewing

I thank my noble friend. At least we are pushing at a door that has a chink of it open. I and my noble friends would like to consider the regulations as they now stand to see whether they are in a form sufficiently detailed to cover the points that we have made in these short speeches, provided that my noble friend the Minister will press on in the meantime. If this is delayed there may be time, if not at Report perhaps at Third Reading, to see whether it is necessary to press again an amendment. In the meantime, we shall study the regulations and come back to my noble friend should we not be happy with his assurances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Discipline.]:

[Amendment No. 55 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 56: Page 22, line 10, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsections (1A), (1B) and (1C) below,").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall, with the permission of the Committee, speak also to Amendment No. 62, which contains the guts of the change which is proposed, and to Amendment No. 99, which provides the necessary definition of the phrase "corporal punishment". I shall try to avoid a detailed historical summary of events over the past four years, since on 25th February 1982 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that corporal punishment in school was degrading treatment and therefore in contravention of the agreement on human rights. But it is necessary for the sake of the Committee and to ensure that we are all talking about the same thing to say something about the events of the last four years.

The Government, although rather slowly, recognised that the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights was binding on this country. Indeed we signed the convention in 1951. After a gap of 17 months in 1983 the Government published a consultative paper on corporal punishment, but I have not used those words in quite the same way, and that legislation was introduced in another place in January 1985.

In introducing that legislation at Second Reading, the Secretary of State for Education and Science acknowledged and proclaimed that there were only three ways in which this country could adhere to its obligations under this international treaty. The first would be to abolish corporal punishment completely in schools. The second would have been what is called a dual system, to say that some schools should allow corporal punishment and some not. The Secretary of State, rightly in my view, said that there would be enormous practical difficulties to that solution. The third was the option taken by the Government and used in the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill which provided that there should be an exemption in all schools for those parents and pupils over the age of 16 who gave notice of their objection to corporal punishment, and it therefore could not be used against them.

As the Committee will recall, in July last year this House at Report stage passed amendments to the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill. They were complicated amendments as my noble friend Lady David said in her speech. There was a complicated list of amendments, but the intention was clear. It was clear that the option of exemption—of having some pupils in schools who could be beaten and others sitting next to them who could not—was quite unacceptable. It proved to be unacceptable to the House. After three weeks, the Government recognised the force of that argument or of the situation in which they found themselves and withdrew the Bill completely.

In response to a question from my noble friend on 28th October, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said that in this country we honour our international treaty obligations and we shall honour this one. In saying that he clearly recognised that this was an international treaty obligation.

Let us return to the three options open to the Government in dealing with this international treaty obligation. The House has rejected and the Government have abandoned the option of exemption. Unless I have to I shall not enter into the arguments why exemption would have been an unsatisfactory option. The Secretary of State rightly ruled out the option of a dual system. If we are to comply with our international treaty obligations we are therefore left with only one option, the option of complete abolition of corporal punishment in our schools. I say that not as a statement of opinion from myself but because it follows ineluctably from the statements made by the Government and from the analysis made by the Secretary of State.

That is the position in law. It is a matter of amazement to us that the Government have not taken the opportunity of a Bill that covers a wide range of educational subjects—which especially in Clauses 20 to 22 contains a detailed prescription about discipline in schools—to fulfill their obligations under international law in the only way effectively open to them. We are offering the Government a lifeline with this amendment. We are offering them an opportunity to comply, after more than four years, with the obligations in a way that has been shown to conform with the sentiments of the Committee and to be the only option truly open to us.

It is not just those noble Lords who have put their names to this amendment who feel in that way. Virtually everybody engaged in the education process either explicity believes in the abolition of corporal punishment in our schools or agrees that the abolition of corporal punishment is a better alternative than the exemption proposed in the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill last year.

5.30 p.m.

Specifically, the National Union of Teachers, the Educational Institute for Scotland, the National Association of Headteachers, the Secondary Heads Association—virtually all of the organisations, medical and psychiatric, concerned with these matters are in favour of the total abolition of corporal punishment in our schools. Of the others, the Professional Association of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, the Association of County Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Society of Education Officers—and I could go on; but I shall not. All of these recognise that abolition is a better alternative than exemption and that this is now the way in which we should proceed. Not only that, but when the matter was debated in this House last summer there were 19 out of 104 local education authorities in England and Wales and six out of 12 local education authorities in Scotland who had already abolished corporal punishment in their schools.

In the short time since that Bill, the 19 has gone up to 24 and the six has gone up to eight. There has been no suggestion at any time that any local education authority which had already abolished corporal punishment should return to corporal punishment as a discipline. I have deliberately concentrated so far on the issues of the treaty obligations of the Government and on the virtually universal support for abolition of corporal punishment among those concerned with education in our schools. But I must say as well that I feel very strongly personally about this issue. I feel very strongly that the words "degrading treatment" which are used in the convention on human rights and which were upheld by the European Court of Human Rights are exactly the right words.

It is degrading for adults to beat children. There can be no other description of that practice. That practice is one that I suffered myself at school and I know exactly what it means. That practice is one that breaks down the relationship of trust and mutual self-confidence which in my view is absolutely essential if our schools are to continue to provide the education suitable for living in an adult world. Corporal punishment is a form of violence. Violence encourages violence. It gives those who administer it and those who suffer by it the impression that it is an acceptable response to other ills and to other violence in our society. That cannot be acceptable as a serious element in our school discipline.

Corporal punishment is wrong in itself. It does not work. We have a clear and perfect opportunity here to put matters right, to put the Government in the right in the light of their international obligations. I very much hope that the Committee will take it by passing these amendments.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I was beaten quite frequently at school, but I am not at all violent. Most of my friends were beaten at school, but I do not know any who were violent. With due respect to the noble Lord, I really think that he is exaggerating a great deal. What does he mean by "corporal punishment"? Does he call a slap on the hand of a small boy given by a mistress corporal punishment? How are you going to have discipline in schools? I do not think that you will get it by writing out lines. Surely, it would be a very bad time now to weaken discipline when juvenile crime is so great and is increasing all the time. There appears to be very little discipline among young people today. My local village—and I may have said this before—five or six months ago was featured on television as the most burgled village in England, though my property was not burgled. The extraordinary thing is that those concerned were all young men—and some of them were caught—who were all in good jobs earning good money yet they were behaving in the most appalling way. They were extremely ill-disciplined.

I really cannot support such an amendment and the noble Lord's speech on corporal punishment. I remember the EEC Bill as it was a year or so ago. It would be quite crazy that one boy's parents may say that their son should not receive corporal punishment while another boy's parents may say that he should. You cannot have that. You either have to abolish corporal punishment altogether, which I am personally against, or you do not; but you certainly cannot have it as I have just described.

Lord Beloff

I hope that the Committee although moved, perhaps moved to tears, by the recollections of Lord McIntosh's painful childhood, will not go on to believe that it should legislate in the light of that experience. I was more fortunate in my schooling, although it is true that on one occasion on which I had cut PT in order to go to an exhibition of paintings by Picasso, I was told that if I had been a little younger I would have been beaten. But, in fact, I was not.

But it seems to me, looking at this amendment on the face of it, that it is the most extraordinary thing to put into a Bill; because we are dealing with the powers of headteachers to enforce discipline and we are asked to include the proviso, "provided that such measures do not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". It seems to me that if I were a headteacher, the suggestion in a Bill, in an Act of Parliament, that I was capable of submitting my pupils to inhuman or degrading treatment would be extremely insulting. Noble Lords opposite in the course of the teachers' dispute have frequently said that one of the reasons is that the teaching profession feels itself unjustly criticised. Nothing that has been said in criticism of the teaching profession is anything like as outrageous in its implications as the suggestion that British headteachers are capable of subjecting their pupils to inhuman and degrading punishments.

It is of course correct—and I would not dispute the legal point with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey—that, given the convention to which we acceded and given the extraordinary interpretation which the European Court has placed upon it in the matter of school discipline, we may be faced with the alternative either of abolishing corporal punishment by law or, as I would prefer, of giving notice of denouncing that convention. I say that not because I am particularly in favour of corporal punishment. If I were a headmaster or indeed in the teaching profession I doubt whether I should myself be a very strong advocate of it; but it seems to me that we should not allow—and I have said this in this House before—a court of jurists to intervene in a matter so necessarily domestic to a particular country as the way in which discipline is maintained in its schools and to intervene by stretching language in the way in which they have stretched it; because, after all, we are not talking about something which is very recent. Corporal punishment has been known in one form or another in schools as long as there have been schools—long before the time of the painful childhood of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

We are asked on this say-so to do something which many teachers would like to do—perhaps now, indeed, as the noble Lord has said, most teachers would like to do. But it seems to me an extraordinary basis on which to legislate in a Bill which is concerned with the general welfare of education. I hope that the Committee will not accept this amendment.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

I rise in support of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. All my life I have been against corporal punishment in schools. I think that everything he said about it is absolutely correct. Naturally, like everybody else, I have nieces and nephews and there are lots of families I have had connections with. I have been chairman of an education committee. I have had a great deal of experience. I was never beaten—I suppose I might have been, but I never was—and I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said.

Corporal punishment is being given up more and more every year by school teachers. They do not want it. It is no way to train children or persuade them that they are wrong to treat them in this violent manner. I cannot understand my noble friend Lord Beloff saying that this is something which does not apply in an Education Bill. We are dealing in this Bill with all sorts of conditions in which education is being organised in this country. The idea that in the year 1986 we should still go on thinking that this is the way to discipline children is incredible. It is so out of date that it does not seem to me to make sense.

I shall not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said because he said it much better than I could, but corporal punishment is getting less and less and year by year many schools are abolishing it. In my opinion, it has no real support, except perhaps from those who are very old-fashioned in thinking that it is a good way of dealing with children. Had I had children I should absolutely hate to think of them being beaten at any point, and nor would I dream of ever beating any child. I think it is a most degrading and hopeless way of dealing with children.

You must have discipline, but you can have it by talking, by demonstration or by anything you like apart from violence. I hope very much that the Committee will support the noble Lord in this amendment if he presses it. Apart from everything else, and the fact that it fits in with our European colleagues, corporal punishment seems to me an uncivilised way of dealing with children. To do away with it simply shows that we have a civilised idea of education.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I apologise in advance if some of the things that I want to say on this occasion are a little muddled. I had so many ideas coming up from Sussex in the train, but the Southern Region is not as smooth as it might be and so in some places I found that I could not read my own writing. That, as an ex-schoolmaster, I find bad.

Also as an ex-schoolmaster, I must say that I have had quite a lot to do with this. I have used corporal punishment as headmaster of a school at a time, years ago now, when I felt (and I do not think I was wrong) that staff and boys expected it of me. But I finally abandoned it. I should like to give you my thoughts about the position nowadays. It seems to me that in a large number of schools corporal punishment is not used any longer because the need to use it is not felt to be there. These are the good schools, schools where there is a good head teacher, a good, caring staff and the pupils come from good, caring families. I would not say it was impossible that a head teacher kept in a dark cupboard somewhere a weapon which has been used at sometime in the past, and there may be dark hints from the children that it is still there, but it has not been used for 20 years and it is highly unlikely that it will be used again.

5.45 p.m.

This is the case, as I say, in the good schools but there are also schools where there is not such a good atmosphere, where staff and pupils are dangerously polarised into the "them and us" syndrome and where discipline is permanently near to breaking-point. In those circumstances, the use of corporal punishment is probably frequent and my feeling is that it is damaging. Research has shown, for example, that cigarette consumption goes up among children who are beaten for smoking; that there is an increase in delinquency, more classroom misbehaviour, more vandalism, lower attendance rates and worse exam results. I am quoting from a research report issued by the University of Wales in 1977.

I feel strongly that the use of the cane tends to increase tension in schools where it already exists, to de-sensitise and sour relations between staff and pupils and to widen and deepen the gulf between them. Furthermore, the children in such schools will know that there are schools where corporal punishment is not used and also that those are the best schools. They will know that their school is not one of them and is thus a bad or a second-rate school and that they are bad or second-rate pupils. Thus they devalue themselves and worsen an already bad position. I should like to say one more thing. They would also know about the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, because, although they are children, they know more than one thinks. That is bound to have the effect of discrediting corporal punishment as a sanction and of discrediting the teachers who use it.

I feel that the climate of opinion has changed greatly in the last 20 years, and I urge your Lordships to bring about a change which, let it be said, all our European neighbours have already brought about, ours being the only country left in Europe that still uses this form of punishment. One last thing: the only occasion on which corporal punishment was reintroduced, having been abolished, was in Nazi Germany.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

As I have put my name down to this amendment, I should like to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, in the impressive things that she said. I am sure she is right in saying that corporal punishment is being given up in the better schools in this country as year succeeds year. When this subject was last debated we heard from the noble Lord, Lord of Ross of Marnock, and although this Bill is confined to England and Wales, I should like to follow the noble Lord by saying that in Scotland 90 per cent. of the children are no longer subject to this punishment. This Bill hardly matters in so far as Scotland is concerned, except for that poor 10 per cent. who are still subject to this punishment. England and Wales do not have such a good record, and that is what this Bill is concerned with today.

I should like also to say that I am glad to have followed the noble Lord who has just spoken, because he has personal experience as a headmaster, and also to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He and I, only a day or so ago, joined in an amendment, and I am sorry that we are differing today. He, like the noble Lord who moved this amendment, gave his personal experience; and this is a declaration of interest in which both Houses of Parliament sometimes indulge on proper occasions. But in my experience a declaration of interest is more commonly a boast, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, successfully boasted today in his declaration of interest as to what a cultured child he was; he told us of his precocious interest in Picasso. I am sure that none of us doubt that he was an extremely cultured child, but we are glad to have that confirmation.

The noble Lord who opened this debate dealt at length with the European convention and I think I must do so too, because this is crucial to the subject. We ratified that convention in 1951. Cases are first dealt with by the Commission, and only a few reach the European Court when judgment is final. There are three relevant cases which have reached a conclusion already and there are some 40 in the pipeline. That is almost inevitable.

This time last year, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said that in his opinion it was 99 to 1 certain that when the next decision comes from the European Court it will condemn all corporal punishment in schools as degrading. The question to my mind is whether, we as a country, are to be put in the position of being so degraded in the view of our friends and neighbours abroad as to be told publicly by an international court of law that we are allowing a degrading punishment in our schools in breach of the convention.

In view of the near certainty of that happening next time, should we not seize the opportunity that the Bill presents to forestall an endless procession of cases which otherwise will inevitably be brought before the court of human rights?

As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said when he moved the amendment, the Government had three choices after the Campbell and Cosans case in 1982. There is the course which is laid before you today which is to abolish corporal punishment in schools altogether. There was the course that Sir Keith Joseph quite rightly rejected, of having two kinds of school—one in which a pupil could be beaten and one in which he could not. The third course was the one which Sir Keith adopted last year—to have two kinds of pupil, those whose parents allowed them to be beaten and those who did not. Two courses have been rejected. The idea of having two kinds of school was rejected by Sir Keith Joseph. Last year this House rejected the third kind, which was to have two kinds of pupil.

There remains only one course. There is no choice, unless the Government are to do the unthinkable, which they have repeatedly said that they will not, which is to denounce the convention. The Government have given the clearest indications from time to time, and I think the last occasion was when the noble Earl on the Front Bench replied to a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the Government had every intention of fulfilling their international obligations. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has said about denouncing the treaty, I should like a positive assurance from the Front Bench today that they have no intention of doing any such thing.

I hope that the Government will welcome these amendments as a merciful release from an intolerable position. For those reasons alone, and I have many more, I commend the amendments to the Committee.

Lord Jacques

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, told us that he thought that the European convention should not interfere in what is a domestic matter. I am inclined to agree with that. I believe that by charter and convention we have in Europe placed more restrictions on individual states than the federal government do in America. In America several matters are left to the states whereas we try to inhibit the actions of individual states. I entirely agree with the noble Lord but that is not the question before the Committee. The question before the Committee is whether there should be corporal punishment, regardless of the convention.

I believe on balance that there should not be. Even the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that were he a headmaster he probably would not have it in his school. I definitely would not have it because I believe that if we are to have successful schools there must be a happy atmosphere, an atmosphere of respect on both sides. I found that in management. I think that it is equally important in schools and I would cultivate it. Corporal punishment has no part to play in achieving the kind of atmosphere that is essential to the good management of the school and for good behaviour in the school.

Baroness Masham of Ikon

May I just add one quick word? I believe that children may behave badly at school as a cry for help. Their parents' marriage may be breaking up or there may be other serious problems. The head teacher should discover the real reason for bad behaviour, and therefore I too support the amendment.

Lord Monkswell

The question before us this evening is whether we should beat children or whether we should not. We all feel revulsion when we learn in the media or in newspapers of cases of children being beaten by their parents, their guardians or someone who abducts them. Surely it is a nonsense for us to be reviled by that and yet at the same time consider by official sanction, legally to give authority to some members of our society to beat children in an official capacity.

One of the problems that the Committee faces is that 95 per cent. of its members were probably beaten at school in their youth. I am sure that many of us will turn round and say, "It did not do us any harm, why should it do anybody any harm?" I must profess a certain ambivalence because I went to school in Scotland at a time when the practice was to use the tawse frequently and regularly. I was subjected to it as were all my classmates.

I can remember two of my classmates. They were good, well-behaved children who felt out of things because they saw their peers being beaten as a normal process. Therefore they were naughty so that they would be beaten. They were beaten to such an extent that they were appalled. They cried and were desperately afraid but they faced that because they did not want to feel isolated from their peer group. That is a ridiculous situation to be in.

I am particularly concerned about the alternatives. A number of the Commitee have said that corporal punishment is a form of discipline and punishment that must or must not be allowed. I should like to pose the question differently to the Committee. Surely it is wrong to say that we must have some form of punishment. I can remember my schooldays. It may be that they are not so long ago compared with those of some other noble Lords. I remember a number of my teachers who did not need to use corporal punishment. They did not even need to bring out the belt. I suspect that one or two of them, even if it were against the rules of their union and the education authority, did not have one. They did not need to use the belt or any other form of punishment because they were good teachers.

6 p.m.

Something close to home is the fact that a couple of years ago my wife went back to teaching after 10 years' absence. She found if difficult, as I am sure most teachers do nowadays. She was faced with the dilemma of whether to try to keep control of her class, to exert discipline, or whether to teach the children. For the first year, she thought that her prime task in life was to keep the class under control, to discipline them, and she used all her energies to that end. She, I think, has changed—and I welcome and recognise that change—to the extent that she now thinks in terms of trying to teach the children, to develop their interest, to bring the best out of them, rather than thinking in terms of pure discipline. I am sure that even (dare I say it?) the Mad Monk has that aspiration, but he sometimes does not help his case very well, in believing that what we should try to do is to support the good teachers, to give them every assistance. If we deny the bad teachers the use of corporal punishment, we may give some encouragement to the good teachers and to the good practices in education, which quite clearly demonstrate that if you have a good teacher you do not need corporal punishment—and the very best teachers do not even need any form of punishment at all.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

What the noble Lord has said is perfectly true. I want to reiterate two points that have been made this afternoon, and I shall be very brief. First, it has just been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that if children are bad you have to look in the home. From many years of having had dealings with children, I know this so well. They are not bad because of anything that happens, or does not happen, at school: they are bad because of what happens at home.

Secondly, I think on reflection that this business of corporal punishment is a kind of curious relic or survival of the medieval mortification of the flesh, and we have advanced beyond that. I am thinking of some other words of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, when she was speaking to her own amendment about the teaching of such things as the care of the body in schools. I think that we should be thinking along those lines. We have reached a stage in evolution where we must realise that our bodies are very beautiful and must be cared for, and the suggestion of corporal punishment is a total denial of that and a reversion to medieval ways of thinking.

Baroness Young

I am very conscious, once again, in getting up to speak in reply for the Government to these amendments, of the strength of feeling on this subject in all parts of the Committee; and the matter was very fully debated a year ago on a Government Bill. There is one point which I should like to clear up at the very start of my remarks, and I should like to say what in fact was the European Court's ruling. It is important to remember that it did not call for the abolition of corporal punishment. The European Court of Human Rights has not ruled that corporal punishment is degrading or inhuman: it ruled merely that the philosophical convictions of the parents should be respected. That is the position in which we find ourselves.

We come to this whole question of discipline—and that is what Clause 20 is concerned with—and, again, we have to see this whole issue in relation to the rest of the Bill. The principal parts of the Bill, which we have already debated, are concerned with the balance between the local education authority, the school governors and the head teacher. It will be noted that Clause 20 begins by stating that it is: the duty of the head teacher to determine measures (which may include the making of rules and provision for enforcing them) to be taken with a view to"— and then it sets out the whole possibilities of good behaviour and of regulating the conduct of pupils.

It is very important to remember that, unlike what was said by my noble friend Lady Elliot, no one is saying to teachers that they must use corporal punishment. She was absolutely right in saying that large numbers of authorities have given it up. That is their choice. They have decided to give it up. No one, not least the Government, is arguing that they should be obliged to reintroduce it or to use it if they do not wish to do so. But that is a very far cry from saying, by statute, that no teacher in any school in the United Kingdom, or at any rate in England and Wales, which this Bill covers, should ever use corporal punishment of any sort, at any time, in any school, which is the effect of the amendment before the Committee.

The effect of this on the whole question of punishment has to be seen against the background of the decisions, and particularly of the power, of the governors who will be ultimately responsible for discipline and will include among their number a high proportion of parents who, once again, will be trained so that they will take a responsible part in the activities of the school, against all the other opportunities that will be raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, in his first intervention on these amendments, referred to what happens in other countries. It is true, generally speaking, that in Europe corporal punishment does not apply. However, as he will probably know much better than I, the whole system of education is very different there and the role of the teacher is somewhat different and, I think he will agree, much more restricted than it is in our schools. They say that they go to school to teach. That is their job, and nothing else. Generally speaking, in our British system we have asked for more than that from teachers. Therefore, the whole philosophy of our teaching system has been somewhat different.

If we are looking at the foreign experience, English-speaking countries, on the whole, retain the sanction of corporal punishment. After all, it can be used as a sanction. It can be there and not used, but can be quite effective because it is there even if it is not used. Anyone who has had any experience of children will know that.

Lord Monkswell

May I—

Baroness Young

If I may finish my train of thought, I shall then give the noble Lord a chance to speak. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also spoke about what is happening in our schools. He, too, talked of the number of authorities who have given up corporal punishment. Of course that is so, and each year brings more authorities who have done that. That is their choice. They have not had it forced upon them by national statute. The local authority has decided, and that is what it has chosen to do.

But if the noble Lord looks at the figures of the latest Mori poll which has been taken on the subject—this is a poll taken in February 1985—they show that some 63 per cent. of parents interviewed favoured the use of corporal punishment in schools; a slightly higher proportion, 65 per cent., said that they would give schools permission to use corporal punishment on their own children; and only 33 per cent. of parents favoured abolition. I will now give way.

Lord Monkswell

I thank the Minister for giving way. She made reference to the fact that English-speaking countries engage in corporal punishment. Does that include the United States of America?

Baroness Young

I should not like to comment on the systems of discipline within the United States of America. I think I am right in saying that education is a state matter, and therefore the position will vary from state to state. I think I would be unwise to comment unbriefed on this subject. But as a general rule, and certainly in some of the countries that I have visited, corporal punishment has at least been available. I could not say whether or not it is used, but it is certainly available. What we are talking about on this amendment is legislating to abolish it throughout the educational system in England and Wales.

If a school decides not to use corporal punishment or if a local education authority decides not to apply corporal punishment, that is not a decision with which the Government would quarrel. The important point is that it would be either the school's decision or the local authority's decision. It would not be a decision that had been imposed on them.

The principle behind these amendments is one that cuts across the general principle that lies behind this Bill which is to maintain what have been the traditional characteristics of the British education system in a devolved system. Within that system the discipline that is applied in the schools would be a matter for decision by the schools themselves or by the local education authorities. This amendment would change that and say that no school and no authority could have corporal punishment, regardless of the wishes or the views of anybody there. One needs to think carefully whether we believe in principle that that should be the case. I hope that with the arguments I have given, the Committee will not accept this amendment.

I can now tell the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, the answer to his question. I gather that most states in the United States allow corporal punishment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not want to detain the Committee but the impression left of the legal position by the Minister is so far from reality that it is necessary to correct it. The noble Baroness said that the European Court's ruling was only that the philosophical convictions of parents ought to be respected, but the Government have recognised that that means that corporal punishment cannot be used in our schools against the wishes of parents. This is the first time we have heard that view put by the Government. Until now the view has been taken that the Government has only three options open to them. It was not just I but the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who made that clear.

Both of the alternatives to abolition have been rejected either by this House or by the Secretary of State himself. Therefore, the only way in which we can comply with the European Court of Justice is by abolishing corporal punishment in all our schools. That has been the position of the Government. It is a remarkable change in that position as expressed by the noble Baroness to suggest that it can still be left as a matter for local options. If the noble Baroness were correct, it would mean that in a school where a parent objected to corporal punishment it could not be allowed anywhere in that school. The Government are not proposing that. It is not in the Bill.

I suggest to the Committee that the amendments which have been proposed are not only right in themselves—the strength of feeling has been widely expressed in the Committee this afternoon—but are in accordance with requirements under international law. I invite those who oppose corporal punishment in principle, those who may not feel so strongly about it in principle but reject the exemption amendment and those who have an ear for the views expressed by everybody involved in the educational process, and, I might add, the churches as well—both the Church of Enlgand and the Roman Catholic Church have expressed the view to their schools that corporal punishment should not be used—I invite anybody who agrees with any of these principles to support this amendment and the amendments that go with it.

6.15 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 56) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 94; Not-Contents, 92.

Airedale, L. Ely, Bp.
Ampthill, L. Ewart-Biggs, B.
Ardwick, L. Falkender, B.
Aylestone, L. Gallacher, L.
Banks, L. Gibson, L.
Barnett, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Bernstein, L. Gregson, L.
Blease, L. Hampton, L.
Boothby, L. Harmsworth, L.
Bottomley, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Briginshaw, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Buckmaster, V. Hayter, L.
Caradon, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Jacques, L.
David, B. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. John-Mackie, L.
Diamond, L. Kilbracken, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Kilmarnock, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Kissin, L.
Lawrence, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Listowel, E. Rochester, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Seear, B.
Lockwood, B. Serota, B.
Longford, E. Shackleton, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Shaughnessy, L.
McGregor of Durris, L. Stedman, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Mayhew, L. Strabolgi, L.
Meston, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Milverton, L. Terrington, L.
Mishcon, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Monkswell, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Mountevans, L. Underhill, L.
Mulley, L. Vickers, B.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Nicol, B. Whaddon, L.
O'Brien of Lothbury, L. White, B.
Oram, L. Wigoder, L.
Parry, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Phillips, B. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Winterbottom, L.
Ypres, E.
Prys-Davies, L.
Abinger, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Lauderdale, E.
Aldington, L. Layton, L.
Ashbourne, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Beloff, L. Long, V. [Teller.]
Belstead, L. Lothian, M.
Bessborough, E. Lurgan, L.
Boardman, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mancroft, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Marley, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Broxbourne, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Merrivale, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mersey, V.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cathcart, E. Mottistone, L.
Chelwood, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Coleraine, L. Munster, E.
Colwyn, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Norrie, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Onslow, E.
Cox, B. Orkney, E.
Craigavon, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Croft, L. Penrhyn, L.
Cross, V. Rankeillour, L.
Davidson, V. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rugby, L.
Elliot of Morpeth, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Elton, L. Shannon, E.
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Somers, L.
Gisborough, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Glanusk, L. Strathcarron, L.
Glenarthur, L. Sudeley, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Swinfen, L.
Greenway, L. Swinton, E.
Haig, E. Teynham, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Halsbury, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Henley, L. Whitelaw, V.
Hives, L. Wilberforce, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Wolfson, L.
Hooper, B. Wynford, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Young, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

6.23 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 56A: Page 22, line 12, at end insert (", in compliance with such requirements of the local education authority as they may specify.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 56A, perhaps I may be permitted to ask the Government what their intentions are likely to be in the light of the decision that the Committee has just taken? It seems to us that the Committee has now expressed a view on two occasions—admittedly by narrow majorities in each case—that the total abolition of corporal punishment is what your Lordships' House wants. In moving Amendment No. 56A I should like to give the representatives of the Government an opportunity to say what their intentions are; and if they cannot say so now—and I appreciate that they may have some difficulty—to indicate when and in what form they will make their intentions clear about the wishes of your Lordships' House and about the future of corporal punishment in our schools.

The Earl of Swinton

I think the Government are fairly used to being defeated in your Lordships' House, and it is not the usual understanding of this House that the Government necessarily get up and straightaway say what they feel about it, and I do not intend to do so on this occasion.

Lord Parry

Is the noble Lord saying he actually takes pleasure in that punishment?

The Earl of Swinton

Corporal punishment has just been abolished in your Lordships' House.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I appreciate that I was caning it a bit in asking for an immediate reply, but I still think it will be necessary for the Government to express their views on the way in which the law stands and how we are to comply with the requirements of the European Court of Justice which have, until this afternoon, been accepted by the Government as being binding. Through the usual channels I shall seek to find further opportunities for your Lordships' House to interrogate the Government and to make sure that the Government make their position clear.

We are still in Amendment No. 56A on the subject of discipline and we are dealing with the first of the three clauses in the Bill which deal with discipline which are described in the Votes on Clauses in a way which does not seem to me for once entirely to represent the implications of the Bill. The clauses that we are dealing with specify that the head teacher has a duty to determine measures to promote good behaviour and so on, in the school, and to regulate the conduct of pupils. They provide for the power to exclude a pupil to be exercised only by the head teacher, and for a whole series of consequential procedures to be followed if there is what appears to be a permanent exclusion.

The Notes on Clauses say that the head teacher is under a duty to consult the local education authority about disciplinary measures. However, if we look at Clauses 20 to 22 we find that in Clause 20(3)(c) the actual requirement on the head teacher and the governing body is not to consult the local education authority, except in the case of exclusion, but to consider representations from the local education authority on disciplinary policies.

I appreciate that the object of the Bill is to see to it that the increased representativeness of the governing bodies provided in Part II is reflected in increased powers in Part III. As I have said on many occasions, we are not opposed to the general drift of that argument, and in general we support both of these elements in the Bill. There must at the same time, however, be an effective balance between the responsibilities and powers of the local education authority, the governing body and the head teachers. I suggest to the Committee that Clause 20, as drafted, does not in fact deal with that. That is the reason for the amendments which we are putting forward.

In moving Amendment No. 56A I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 58 and 59A, and I should like to make it clear—because it may not be from the way the Marshalled List is presented, and that is entirely my fault—that I shall not be moving Amendments Nos. 57, 59 and 60 which were intended to be withdrawn when Amendment No. 55 was withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

What Amendments Nos. 56A, 58 and 59 say is that the local education authority shall have the right to set down certain requirements of governing bodies and of head teachers through the governing bodies in disciplinary matters. That may appear to introduce an element of centralism; it may appear that we are returning to the overriding powers of local authorities. I assure the Committee that we are doing no more than is necessary in order to ensure the coherence of an education service within an education authority.

6.30 p.m.

I take the example of Poundswick School in Manchester, where there has been a dispute between the staff and the head teacher of one school against the local education authority. That case was referred to on a number of occasions on Second Reading, and I do not wish to go into the details of it. Whatever view one may take of the rights or wrongs of that issue, the fact of the matter is that the existing provision for discipline has not been adequate to secure an agreement or a conclusion between the Manchester education committee and the head teacher and staff of Poundswick School.

Something must be done to put that situation right. In one way or another, somebody must bring that process of conflict to an end. I suggest to your Lordships that Clauses 20 to 22 do not deal with that situation. They do not secure that all schools will work together as they ought to within an education authority to provide a common standard of discipline that is accepted across all the schools within that education authority and which can be applied, when it is necessary, to exclude a pupil from one school but accept him for another—because the overriding responsibility for education is held by the local education authority. It is possible to exclude a child from one school but it is not possible for a local education authority to exclude a child from education altogether. That is the current state of the law, and it is the state of the law as it would be continued under the Bill.

We are saying that, ultimately, somebody has to grasp the nettle. If there is a dispute and there is a difficulty, then someone must say that enough is enough. The disciplinary codes in schools must at least not be incompatible.

The Government may answer that Clause 22 provides for the situation in certain circumstances, where it states that a local education authority may take such steps, as they consider are required to prevent the breakdown, or continuing breakdown, of discipline at the school". No doubt that is a necessary provision, as the Government recognise, but I suggest to the Committee that it is not enough. I suggest that it deals with the matter only when disputes, difficulties or disciplinary problems have already gone too far. It is not right to leave it until there is a situation of "breakdown, or continuing breakdown" for the local authority to have the right and the duty to intervene. It is consistent with the responsibility of a local education authority to its electors, and to all of those who take part in education in its area, that ultimately they should be listened to when disciplinary codes are being drawn up. That is what the amendments are intended to provide, and I hope that they will receive the support of the Committee.

Baroness Young

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in introducing his amendment, asked what is the position of the Government in respect of the European Court's ruling on corporal punishment. Last year we introduced an Education Bill to allow parents to exempt their children from corporal punishment. In so doing we were seeking to reconcile the twin objectives of securing compliance with the European Court's ruling and, at the same time, of respecting the widespread feeling in favour of the availability of corporal punishment.

In doing that, were were adopting what the court had itself mentioned as a possible means of implementation. Much of the criticism of that Bill was in our view exaggerated, but in view of the decision of your Lordships at Report stage in July 1985 in favour of abolition we decided not to proceed further with that Bill. The position now is that we are still considering what action to take to implement the European Court's ruling.

As to the specific amendments to which the noble Lord has spoken, they in fact seek to give local education authorities a direct say in matters affecting the discipline of a school. We believe that allowing local education authorities to lay down disciplinary requirements on schools would not be compatible with the intentions of this part of the Bill. We believe that discipline should be primarily a matter for the school, with general principles being established by the governing body and not by the local education authority. It is an essential element of the Government's view that the direction of the conduct of a school should be the responsibility of the governing body. That body should be the guarantor for a school's identity and will exercise an important influence over the ethos of the school.

What we have done is to provide for the local education authority to be consulted where new disciplinary procedures might be expected to lead to additional expenditure or to affect the LEA's responsibility as an employer. However, we see those purely as long stop arrangements, equally reserving a right under Clause 22 for the LEA to intervene if a breakdown of discipline is threatened or has occurred. It is intended as a measure of last resort that has regard to the LEA's overall responsibility for securing the provision of good education in its area. Thus the main thrust of our proposals is to reduce the LEA's influence on school discipline. The proposed amendments would do the reverse: they would consolidate it. In aided and special agreement schools, the amendments could actually increase it.

I hope that with that explanation of the effects as we see them of the amendments, which we believe would not be compatible with the principles of the Bill, and having described the role as we see it of the governing body, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have listened very carefully to what has been said by the noble Baroness. I am grateful that she felt able to make a statement about the Government's position on the issue of corporal punishment. I felt sure that one had been drafted for the eventuality of the Government being defeated, but I thought that it might take a few minutes for it to reach the Front Bench.

On the issue of the amendments now before the Committee, the noble Baroness expressed the situation quite correctly. It is true that the amendments propose to retain a rather stronger reserve power for the local authority in disciplinary matters than is the Government's intention. I do not deny that in any way. That certainly would be the effect of the amendment, and it is certainly the amendment's intention as well.

I have to ask the Minister: if she is entirely satisfied with the provisions of the Bill on matters of discipline, then how does she see a continuing conflict such as that which we have seen in Manchester over Poundswick School being resolved when the law has been reformulated in the terms of the Bill? It seems to me that legislation of this kind should be able to deal with the practical questions that are being found in our schools.

It is not just a matter of Poundswick School, because one could ask whether there was adequate provision to deal with the problems at Drummond Middle School in Bradford or the problems that arose in London some years ago, when there were extreme conflicts between governing bodies, the local education authority, and the teachers in a school. Surely the intention of the Government in putting forward this Bill must be to resolve conflict in our schools and they must be able to show how this Bill would have resolved or could still resolve the conflicts which have in practice arisen in our schools under existing legislation. I do not think that is an unreasonable question.

The Government had adequate warning on Second Reading, because a number of noble Lords referred to these matters when we considered the Bill then. I should like to give the Minister an opportunity to tell us how she would see a dispute about the exclusion of a pupil between the head teacher of a school and a local education authority being resolved under the terms of Clauses 20, 21 and 22. I shall be delighted to give way if the Minister feels able to respond to that question. I shall be delighted to say another sentence if that would help the Minister to respond to that question.

Baroness Young

I appreciate the point that the noble Lord has raised. I hope that I am able to give an answer, but if I cannot give a full answer I hope he will understand if I write to him later, because I should not want to give an incomplete reply.

Most of the amendments that have been tabled to the discipline clauses would in one way or another place limits on schools in their endeavours to maintain discipline. That is the opposite of what the Bill is intended to do. Its purpose is to give governing bodies and head teachers as much freedom as is reasonably possible to decide on rules of conduct and means of enforcement. In our view, the LEAs' powers should be confined to those needed to carry out their legal obligations to secure the education of all children in their areas. In that context discipline is largely irrelevant to that obligation except in a few circumstances which the Bill identifies. For example, if a pupil is excluded from school, sooner or later, if he is not re-admitted the LEA must act to secure his education—the point which I think the noble Lord was making on the way the law would operate to see that a child must be educated.

It is a different matter altogether for LEAs to tell schools what kind of disciplinary sanctions they may or may not use and some amendments would allow local education authorities to do that. We believe that this would cut across the main principle of the Bill.

On the point raised by the noble Lord about Poundswick School, I appreciate that this has been a cause of considerable concern in the local authority area and, indeed, in the educational world. It would be right for me to say that I will write to the noble Lord concerning that school in relation to the Bill. I shall do so before the next Committee day so that he has plenty of time to consider the matter. I hope the noble Lord will accept that answer at this time.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

Before my noble friend Lord McIntosh replies, not for the first time I find myself in the dilemma of having to contradict noble friends on my own Front Bench, or at least debate with them. But perhaps that is one of the privileges that we have in your Lordships' Committee.

I should like to know from my noble friend whether his amendments mean that the local education authority would be the deciding factor in dealing with a child being excluded. I can give chapter and verse on many cases. There is a school of which I was chairman of the governors where one boy stabbed another severely and the stabbed boy nearly died. The headmaster asked me whether he could exclude the first boy and, as chairman, I gave chairman's action. The governors supported us. However, the LEA—I shall not name it—then tried to exert pressure to make the headmaster take back the boy.

I said then, as I have said before and shall say again, that authority balances on delicate pillars. Children know very well that if a person gets away with something—that is the phrase that children use—there is no reason why they cannot get away with it. They look you in the eye and say, "What can you do about it?" I have recently been talking to a young teacher who has since left, and she told me that that is the kind of thing that children say to you these days. I sometimes wonder when I am in your Lordships' House how many schools noble Lords have been in lately. It is all very well to quote from one's childhood but times have moved on a little. I have a sense of unreality about some of the discussions on certain state schools; I cannot speak for public schools.

In the example to which I have referred it was quite wrong for the local education authority to exert pressure for that child to be returned to the same school. That is the kind of situation to which I do not want to be a party; forcing any headmaster or chairman of governors to comply. The head and the governing body must be the sole controllers and arbiters in such a situation. After all, they are on the spot and know the position.

It would be fine if that was an isolated case. Sadly, in London it is not. The boy was to be educated somewhere else but the local education authority wanted him to be educated in the same school. I am happy to say that I won. I had to argue with Members of Parliament, the education authority, the race relations committee, as I recall, and one or two others; but it did not mean that I did not stand my ground. The principle had to be resolved in the interests of every child in the school and certainly in the interests of the teachers, who have a very difficult job.

I am waiting, as I said on a previous occasion, for a Bill to be introduced to abolish corporal punishment by children on teachers—because that is what we see now. There are assaults by children on teachers and I do not think we need to worry so much about the children being assaulted. Everything has changed. Therefore, I can only say that before we go into the Lobbies, which he may ask us to do, I want to know from my noble friend what is the real meaning of these amendments.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I should be grateful, as I am sure would the Committee, to see the letter that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, eventually sends to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I say this particularly in relation to Poundswick School because many of us have been seriously concerned about what we have read. Many of us want to ensure that children involved in a disciplinary situation of a grievous kind should have some right of appeal. At the same time, having said that I am sure that many of us are seriously concerned about the climate of violence which now exists in a number of schools, not only in Manchester but in other parts of the country. That being so, it seems to me that the issue which has been raised today is of considerable importance. As I say, together with, I am sure, noble Lords in other parts of the Committee, I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would ensure that a copy of her letter is put in the Library.

Baroness Young

I say right away that I shall be happy to send a copy of my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. If I may say so, I think it is a matter of regret that he did not speak in those terms on the preceding amendment.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

If the noble Baroness wants me to re-open the issues raised on the previous amendment, I shall gladly do so. However, I should have thought that, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, has expressed his disquiet at the amount of time we have been devoting to this Bill, it seems mildly strange that a Minister should invite one to re-open issues on which the Committee has taken a decision. I find that a rather bizarre suggestion.

Lord Monkswell

I must admit to taking a slightly different point of view from the penultimate speaker. In fact, I live in Manchester. My wife teaches there, and she is a member of the union which has been at the forefront of the Poundswick dispute. Unfortunately from the point of view of our own family relationships, she has taken one side and I have taken the other.

Apart from that, one of the problems with which your Lordships are faced is the dilemma that I suspect we can get into if this Bill goes forward unamended, in that on the one hand we shall give the power to the head teachers and the Government to determine whom they shall or shall not teach, but on the other hand there will be a responsibility on the education authority to ensure that everyone is taught. This will raise a great conflict, because the one body will have the responsibility and the other body will have the power.

With regard to the dispute at Poundswick, I do not think that anyone would argue that exclusion of a pupil from a school is not something which should be available in particular circumstances. However, one has to be aware of the background to the situation. As I see it, the local authority was faced with a situation in which there was a fairly significant number of pupils who were regularly being excluded first from one school, then from another school and so on. At some stage that cycle had to be stopped in order to ensure that the responsibility which devolved on the education authority, that every child should have an education, was fulfilled effectively. If there is a child who is being shuffled from one school to another and then to another and another, the education authority is not accepting its responsibilities.

However, I must admit that in the Poundswick situation the whole affair has blown up into a conflict which I suggest is out of all proportion, though I can recognise the strong feelings which are held on both sides. I hope that in quieter circumstances both sides will recognise that everyone is trying to act for the best and will try to find some way forward. Yet at the end of the day the buck must stop somewhere. If half the buck stops in one court and half the buck stops in another, it is a recipe for chaos. I think it is an unfortunate feature of this Bill and, (dare I say it?) one of the problems that we on this side of the Committee are trying to resolve by putting forward the amendments that we have.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am delighted to debate with both the Minister and my own noble friends. It is an experience which she has been undergoing on this Bill more often than I have. Nonetheless, the experience does not disagree with me.

I can assure my noble friend Lady Phillips that the amendments which I am now putting forward refer to the policy on discipline in schools which shall be determined by the head teacher and the general principles by which he has to operate in determining the policy on discipline. The amendments do not deal directly with the issue of exclusion, though it is quite clear that exclusion is one of the disciplinary measures that may be described in a policy. In fact, the Bill contains very detailed measures on exclusion policy, and there is at least one section entirely devoted to this matter.

We are not proposing amendments to the exclusion provisions of the Bill: we are proposing that there should not be disciplinary measures of any kind in one school which are in conflict with the disciplinary policies of another school in the same local authority area. It should be the duty of the local authority to ensure that the disciplinary policies of the different schools under its control are consistent with each other, and to that extent the local education authority should have the power to make requirements about disciplinary policy on the governing bodies and head teachers of the schools in its area. That is the purpose of the amendment, not detailed change to the powers or constraints on exclusion.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the way in which she responded to my questions. I listened very carefully to her reply and I think it is wise, in the light of her undertaking to write to me before the next meeting of the Committee, that I should not pursue this matter to a vote at this time. I think that your Lordships would wish all debate on this matter to be fully informed and properly thought out before asking the Committee to reach a conclusion. I think the noble Baroness has been very fair in her response and in the offer she has made to write to me, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 57 to 60 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Wells-Pestell): I call Amendment No. 61.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 61:

Page 23, line 5, at the end insert— ("who shall not exclude a pupil from the school on the ground that the pupil has refused to consent to be given corporal punishment, or on the ground that a parent of the pupil has refused to permit him to be given corporal punishment or has otherwise sought to secure that he will not be given corporal punishment at the school;").

The noble Lord said: I do not think I shall move this amendment because I did not speak to it in moving—

The Earl of Swinton

If your Lordships will forgive me, I wonder why Amendment No. 61 has been called before Amendment No. 60A. We have had a discussion about whether we should teach mathematics in schools, but it seems a strange way of proceeding.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Amendment No. 61 appears before Amendment No. 60A in the Marshalled List. That is the answer.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is the noble Lord moving Amendment No. 61?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In the Marshalled List which I have, Amendment No. 61 is printed above Amendment No. 60A. That is clearly not right. I think I should defer to the noble Earl.

The Earl of Swinton

I can only say that I think this is one thing produced in the Marshalled List for which the Department of Education and Science is not responsible.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

My information is that the amendments are in the right order even if the numbers seem to be wrong.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I understand that it is correct that I should speak to Amendment No. 61 before Amendment No. 60A. This matter refers to corporal punishment. I did not speak to it in moving Amendment No. 56. I confess to your Lordships that I am not entirely clear whether Amendment No. 61 is an essential part of the argument on corporal punishment, but I shall have an opportunity to return to it at Report stage if I find it is a necessary part of the series of amendments depending upon Amendment No. 56.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No. 60A:

Page 23, line 5, at end insert— ("ff) for it to be the duty of the head teacher, where he excludes from the school a pupil who is a child or young person, to take (without delay) reasonable steps to inform a parent of the pupil of the period of the exclusion and the reasons for it;").

The noble Earl said: This amendment would place a duty on a head teacher who excluded a pupil under 18 years of age to take reasonable steps to notify the pupil's parent. We consider that this is a sensible requirement to include in this Bill, as your Lordships will no doubt agree, particularly in relation to children under 16, whose parents have a duty to see that they are educated. It also reflects the fact that the primary responsibility for promoting good behaviour in children rests with their parents. I hope that your Lordships will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

The amendment says "to take (without delay) reasonable steps to inform a parent". May I ask my noble kinsman whether this also includes a guardian? The child or young person might be in foster care or in the care of the local authority or a guardian if the parents are dead or abroad.

The Earl of Swinton

This is covered by the 1944 Act, which defines a parent as including, a guardian and every person who has the actual custody of the pupil".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Briefly (although in this Committee that word seems an introduction to length) we thoroughly support the amendment. We believe that it is a valuable addition to the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Denham

This seems a convenient moment at which to break for the adjournment. In moving that the House do now resume, may I say that we shall not return to this Bill before 8 o'clock. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.