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Remand Homes And Approved Schools (Corporal Punishment)

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 10 April 1951

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Popplewell.]

11.28 p.m.

I apologise for raising this matter so late at night. It is as much an inconvenience to me as it is to any hon. Member, and possibly more so. I hoped that we would be able to discuss this matter earlier, and that we would have had longer time in which to discuss it than is the case now. However, I will be as brief as possible and I trust that what I have to say will bring forth in reply some illuminating observations which may satisfy my own disquiet.

The matter which I am raising tonight is that of corporal punishment in remand homes and approved schools. It arises out of a number of Questions which I have put in this House from time to time, and, in particular, Questions which I addressed on 22nd February and 1st March. I must say, briefly, that I was a little surprised to find that these Questions were received by some hon. Members opposite with merriment and derision; they were not so received by all hon. Members opposite, because some of them have spoken to me on this subject; but quite a number vocalised their merriment. Why, I do not know. It cannot be because they are fond of flagellation, or that, on the other hand, they find some delight in the imposition of physical pain. All I can say is that there must be some psychological explanation of the matter.

It is not my purpose to discuss that tonight, but it is significant that while so many are light-hearted in regard to the corporal punishment of juveniles and young people, so far as adults are concerned we have abolished flagellation as punishment, except for cases of serious attacks on warders in prisons. It is, therefore, all the stranger that we cannot now begin, calmly and reflectively to consider what is the appropriate punishment to be inflicted upon juveniles in place of what we all recognise to be old method of flagellation.

In prisons, I have already pointed out, flagellation is now reduced to the minimum. The same is true, of course, in our Fighting Services. There was a time when, both in the Army and the Navy, flogging was looked upon as a necessary form of discipline, but now it is entirely abolished. In the Colonial Forces until a few years ago, flogging was still being inflicted and I well remember, if the House does not mind this brief allusion, raising this question just after the end of the war and again being received with derision by some hon. Members opposite, only to be told by one Conservative Member that he himself had seen monstrous cases of flogging and ill-treatment in Africa though he was not prepared, openly, to bear witness to what he had seen.

In any case, all who have studied this matter at all will agree that, although flogging and corporal punishment may be a deterrent—and I agree that it may be in some circumstances—it is not always successful in this way. It does not remove the actual cause of the delinquency. What it does tend to do very often is to emphasise the assumption that the infliction of physical pain is right, whereas more and more in the world of penology and the treatment of delinquents we are coming to realise that the mere infliction of physical pain often does far more harm than good, and causes us to evade the cause of the real trouble.

My concern tonight is not so much corporal punishment as such, but excessive and inappropriate application of corporal punishment in the institutions that I have mentioned. One can put, alongside that the possibility that the circumstances in which it is inflicted are not always desirable. Naturally, I confine my very brief remarks to remand homes and approved schools. The figures given to me by the Home Secretary, when I asked the Question, were these. In 1950, I was informed, there were 14,000 inmates of remand homes. The figures available are for 1949 and there were then 14,200. There were in that same period, 675 instances of corporal punishment. In regard to approved schools there were 13,600 boys and girls under the age of 17, and another 800 in approved probation hostels. In that case there were nearly 4,000 instances of corporal punishment—3,973.

For those over 15 it was admitted there were 16 cases where 12 strokes were imposed for certain forms of delinquency—and it might be more than that—and 540 cases where six strokes or more have been imposed. For girls under 15—there were no figures for girls over 15 because it was thought they were unsuitable for that kind of punishment—there were 42 cases where they had six strokes, three on each hand. All this, of course, it has been admitted, is at the discretion of the schoolmasters or the heads of approved schools.

There are certain regulations, I know—managers who can inspect the punishment books and so forth—but the discretion rests still very largely on the head. I am not going to suggest for a moment that more than a minority of these heads abuse their trust. I am certain that most of them are wise and humane people, but there is always the minority everywhere who have a sadistic streak, who are vindictive or deficient of knowledge to deal with certain forms of delinquency.

One deduces from that knowledge that in these cases—12 strokes given in 16 cases—there must have been gross misjudgment and ignorance of the way in which to tackle some of these unfortunate forms of behaviour and therefore the regulations need tightening up and strengthening, while better guidance should be given where heads employ this kind of discipline. I would observe that in a great majority of remand homes and approved schools—and I am speaking more particularly of approved schools—such investigations as I have been able to make show that there is nothing like this severity. If the cane is given, the punishment is of a mild and restricted character, if that be so, it makes it all the more astonishing that in some of these approved schools this excessive form of punishment is imposed. If it can be eliminated in certain schools, why should that not apply elsewhere?

I notice the offences for which this corporal punishment of 12 strokes has been imposed include absconding, stealing, persistent unruliness, gross insolence and indecency. I know there are occasions when youngsters, especially of a certain type, can be extremely exasperating; when they are really so tough and unresponsive that, for the sake of the whole community, severe measures have to be taken. Even so, anyone with but a moderate knowledge of psychology will agree that to try to cure indecency by imposing 12 strokes upon the delinquent is altogether absurd and not a remedy at all likely to cure that form of misbehaviour. We know that there is an intimate link between flagellation and stimulation and a certain amount of sexual distortion as well. Anyone who has studied the matter is aware that there is an intimate link and that sometimes flagellation is directly employed to promote sexual stimulation in degenerate types of pupils. I am not saying that this kind of thing occurs in most cases, but it may be so in some cases.

I would add further that surely stealing and persistent unruliness have occurred in all the hostels and approved schools in one way or another; but in dealing with what must be a fairly widespread misdemeanour, this excessive punishment is not used in the majority of schools; why, then, should it be used in some?

Has the hon. Member evidence that certain approved schools employ this method of punishment much more than others do, or has he only the overall figures?

Do certain approved schools use this kind of punishment much more than other approved schools? Has the hon. Member the figures for individual schools, or only the overall figures?

It is impossible to give separate figures, but I am perfectly certain that in some schools this kind of punishment is given as a maximum and in others as a minimum. I might point out that, while there have been 16 cases where there have been these instances of 12 strokes for such misdemeanours as indecency, there are many more approved schools than 16 where indecency has occurred but this excessive punishment has not been imposed. This kind of punishment is not imposed in Borstal. They are not allowed to flog in Borstal, nor are courts empowered to impose this kind of punishment. It is only in some approved schools apparently that it is imposed in this excessive way.

Such inquiries as I have been able to make reveal that in other countries this kind of punishment is not imposed—certainly not in an excessive manner. It is not imposed in American or Scandinavian countries or Russia. I would not suggest for one moment that the juveniles in those areas are superior to the juveniles in our own country. The authorities there must have the same kind of problem to deal with and they deal with it in some other way. I do not want our country to lag behind those countries I have mentioned.

I ask these questions. Could there be greater supervision of the heads of approved schools and remand homes and more specific guidance both as to the occasions on which corporal punishment can be imposed and the limitation on the form of corporal punishment? For instance, in the case of indecency, this kind of punishment is the worst possible, and therefore they should be informed of other ways of dealing with what I admit to be a very great problem in some approved schools.

Surely, the Under-Secretary of State would agree that, because of the liability on the part of a minority of heads of approved schools to allow vindictiveness to be confused with their legitimate desire for punishment in these cases, some directive ought to be given to them to warn them not to allow this confusion to reign. Again, I should like to ask, when the Committee, which I understand has been for some time inquiring into the whole question of corporal punishment, will issue its report. Can nothing be done before the report is made? Can we not have an interim report or some indication of what the report is likely to be?

I hope I have abbreviated my remarks as much as possible and I hope I have not detained the House too long. I am not now dealing with corporal punishment as such. That is one thing. It is the excessive and inappropriate kind of corporal punishment to which I am referring and in connection with which the figures that have been produced cause me and other hon. Gentlemen on both sides considerable disquiet. For that reason, I hope I shall have a most encouraging reply.

11.43 p.m.

I am not sure that I take up the same attitude as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorenson), but I think he has made a good case. I think he has made a case for a careful inquiry into certain approved schools in their use of flogging. It seems clear that if certain schools use this form of punishment much more than other schools, something is wrong. To that extent I support him.

What I rose to say was that I do not like the idea of small girls being struck with the cane. I do not like the idea of anybody being struck on the hand with the cane. The proper place for the application of the cane is the seat, and I think there is actual physical danger in applying it to the hands. I hope the Home Office will go into this question and other questions, and I hope they will keep a close eye on this form of punishment and see that it is not too much inflicted in certain schools. It is a good form of punishment in certain cases, but it can also be the lazy disciplinarian's form of punishment in some other instances. I hope that something will result following from the intervention of the hon. Member for Leyton tonight.

11.44 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) always states his case with such humanity that it is always painful to have to disagree with him at all. With most of what he said, there is no disagreement, but I must take up right away the question of the Committee to which he referred. It is a committee which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set up at the time of the Criminal Justice Bill to go into the whole question of punishment in prisons. Before he set up the Committee the question of punishment in approved schools and remand homes was added to its terms of reference. The fact that this was added is some indication that the Home Office regards the question of punishment and discipline as a matter of great importance. This is a strong Committee. Among its members are a psychiatrist and men with wide experience of dealing with delinquents. The Committee has finished taking evidence, and its report dealing with approved schools and remand homes is even now being prepared.

As far as discipline and punishment is concerned in approved schools, Rule 33 reads as follows:
"The discipline of the school shall be maintained by the personal influence of the headmaster and staff, and shall be promoted by a system of rewards and privileges, which shall be subject to the approval of the Chief Inspector."
That is, of course, the Chief Inspector of the Home Office. In practice, the rule means that the emphasis is placed on the maintenance of discipline by the personal influence of the headmaster and the staff. The system of rewards and punishments is secondary and supplementary, and most schools have a system of marks by which boys may earn rewards and privileges such as special outings, visits to the cinema, and so on. Experience has shown that the combined use of the personal influence of the headmaster and the staff and a system of privileges will not meet all cases. Therefore we recognise a third method of maintaining discipline by imposing certain punishments other than the curtailing of privileges, and those are set out in detail in Rules 34 to 39. They include corporal punishment. For boys and girls under 15, there is a maximum of six strokes for boys and a maximum of three strokes on each hand for girls.

Can the Under Secretary say why the rule is six strokes in one case and three plus three in the other?

I would not like to say, save that the explanation can be found in Rules 35 and 36. The rule is six for boys, and three on each hand for girls. For boys over 15 there is a maximum of eight strokes, and in exceptional cases 12 strokes: in that case there has to be special approval from one of he managers of the schools. There is no corporal punishment at all for girls over 15.

My hon. Friend has quoted the Home Secretary's figures on corporal punishment for boys, and I will not repeat them, but I should like to refer to excessive punishment, and quote one figure to put the matter in better perspective. On any one day last year in about 140 approved schools in England and Wales, with over 9,000 boys and girls, many of them very difficult indeed, 11, on an average, received corporal punishment.

In the remand homes the procedure is much the same, and again I have a copy of the remand home rules made by the Home Secretary. There the corporal punishment rules are a maximum of six strokes for boys, and none at an for girls. Again, I should like to give one figure. On any one day last year in about 80 remand homes in England and Wales providing accommodation for nearly 2,000 boys and girls, there were two, on an average, who received corporal punishment.

My hon. Friend asked for regulations in respect of the type of offences for which corporal punishment can be invoked. It is considered right that, subject to the requirements and safeguards of the rules to which I have referred, the managers, headmasters and superintendents should have discretion to decide whether corporal punishment is necessary in the individual circumstances. Further, it is considered that if corporal punishment were prescribed for specific offences, it might be difficult to avoid the implication that it was an appropriate punishment for those offences without regard to the individual circumstances.

In reply to one question, the Home Secretary referred to the methods of discipline and punishment, including corporal punishment, and said they were kept under constant review as regards their suitability and extent. This review is conducted by the Home Office Childrens Department Inspectorate, and psychiatrists are included. There is a strong tendency for courts nowadays to remand children in custody for a psychological or psychiatric report, so that the court can have specialised advice before deciding on appropriate treatment. The remand homes get these reports, sometimes from a visiting psychiatrist or from a child guidance clinic. If the boy or girl is committed to an approved school, the reports go with them, so that the headmaster and staff have them available when they come to consider punishment.

Again, there are more psychiatric reports from the classifying schools. Nowadays an increasingly large number of boys and girls going to approved schools go first to a classifying school, so that they go to a type of school more suited to them, and they arrive at that school with a psychiatric report. The value of this psychiatric treatment and analysis is, of course, extremely important, but we must remember that the approved school population comprises a wide variety of types and ages, and includes a proportion of really tough, self-centred, unruly adolescents who have never been disciplined before they arrive at an approved school. As a result, they do not take kindly to any discipline.

Until we have considered any changes that may be recommended by the Committee, the Home Secretary considers that the managers, the headmasters and superintendents—those who have the immediate responsibility for dealing with these sometimes extremely difficult cases—should have discretion to apply the disciplinary measures that they judge to be appropriate and effective, subject to the limitations laid down in the statutory orders to which I have referred, and to the further safeguard provided by Home Office inspection and Home Office advice.

Of course, one hon. Member who intervened made the point about the difference there might be in treatment. That may well be, because it is left to the discretion of headmasters as to how they run an approved school, subject to the supervision of the managers. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was about to intervene if there had been time, and I am sure he was going to defend the standard of these headmasters and headmistresses. In fact, they are valuable people, usually, men and women with a vocation for the work, and often responsible, qualified teachers. Their appointment is subject to approval by the Home Secretary and there is no reason why they should be less capable than others of judging what corporal punishment is appropriate. Why should they be less capable than heads of ordinary schools and children's homes?

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Criminal Justice Act made great changes. In prisons corporal punishment has been abolished, and also in Borstals. Now it is for consideration that approved schools and remand homes should follow the practice which applies in Borstal, which is, of course, a penal institution. I am quite certain that the Committee will have considered this point, and I would not like to say anything more on it tonight. I am sorry in many ways that this Debate has had to take place before the Committee has reported, but I hope my hon. Friend, even if he has got little satisfaction from my reply, will at least accept my assurance that very great attention will be paid in the Home Office to what he has said in his well-considered and humane speech tonight.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.