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Boys, Durham (Corporal Punishment)

Volume 531: debated on Thursday 29 July 1954

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asked the Minister of Education whether her attention has been called to the action of Mr. Oliver Whitfield, of the Secondary Modern School, Durham, who caned 200 boys because he was unable to discover a misdemeanour alleged to have been made by one of them; whether such mass corporal punishment of children has her approval; and whether she will issue instructions for the dismissal of this headmaster for punishing 199 innocent boys.

I have seen reports of the incident in the Press. Disciplinary matters of this kind are within the discretion of the headmaster and of the local education authority, and I would not wish to intervene. In any case, I have no power to require the dismissal of the headmaster.

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the statements made by the Home Secretary on this question of punishment a few days ago, when he said:

"… the two requirements of natural justice that have gone back to the beginning of civilisation are that a person who may be punished should know what the complaint is against him and that he should be given an opportunity to meet it. That is the basis of the rule of law throughout the ages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1954; Vol. 530, c. 1292.]
Was either of those conditions fulfilled in the case of any one of these 200 children? Is this not a gross abuse of the ordinary custom of justice which is being denied to these children and has not the right hon. Lady the responsibility of safeguarding their rights? What action does she intend to take to prevent this gross abuse of justice?

Without expressing an opinion whether there was justice or not, I can only repeat that I shall not interfere with the duty and responsibility of the local authority and the headmaster.

Is the Minister aware that the parents in this district are not complaining, and that it would be an advantage if my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Peter Freeman) would leave the teaching profession alone for a while? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is the Minister further aware that the discipline of this school can only suffer from the publicity given to a Question of this sort?