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Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 6

Exemption From Corporal Punishment Not Ground For Suspension, Etc

'A person shall not be debarred from receiving education in any circumstances (whether by refusing him admission to a school, suspending his attendance or otherwise) on the grounds that, if he were not so debarred in those circumstances, he would not be adequately amenable to discipline by reason of his being a pupil exempt from corporal punishment by members of the staff for the purposes of section 1 of this Act.'.—[Mr. Dunn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 7 and 13.

No. 22, in page 4, line 17, at end insert—
'(1A) No headteacher of a school or responsible body as set out in subsection (1) above shall exercise any power he, or as the case may he it, may have to refuse a pupil admission to a school or suspend or expel a pupil from a school or from education provided in a school solely because the pupil is or may be exempt from corporal punishment.',
Government amendments Nos. 26, 29, 33, 39, 47 to 49, and 51.

6.15 pm

I am delighted at long last to be at the Report stage of the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill. Rather like the organisers of "Miss World", I should like to deal with Government amendment No. 29, Opposition amendment No. 22, new clause 6 and all the other amendments on the Order Paper. During the recent short recess, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and I have on many occasions thought about the Report stage. The Bill went through a very short and amicable Committee stage, with the help and support of all the parties represented on the Committee. It was a unique occasion of good will and harmony.

If I may deal initially with new clause 6 and the other amendments to which I have just referred, it was argued in Standing Committee that the Bill gave inadequate protection for an exempt pupil against unjust measures, including suspension and expulsion from school. The fear of members on both sides of the Standing Committee was that schools would seek to circumvent the effect of the legislation, either by refusing admission to a pupil whose parents were known to favour exemption or by suspending or expelling a pupil simply because he had exempted status. It is fair to say that no member of the Standing Committee claimed that exempt pupils should be immune from debarment from school, only that exempt pupils might be the target of unfair practice designed to thwart the wishes of parents. I believe the House will accept that that is a fair though short interpretation of the views of members on both sides of the Committee.

During the proceedings in Standing Committee I was able to point to our proposal that questions about corporal punishment should be put to parents after a child had been accepted by a school. This, together with provisions to allow parents to change their mind, would in virtually all cases rule out the possibility of a child being kept off a school roll because of parental views about exemption. Again it is true to say that, despite my assurances, some members of the Standing Committee had lingering doubts about this, and more particularly about the possibility of debarments affecting pupils on the roll when the school became aware of the wish of parents to exempt pupils. In order to remove those doubts and to make it plain on the face of the Bill that it would be intolerable to give a new right to parents on the one hand and then to allow a school effectively to withdraw it on the other, these amendments have been placed on the Order Paper.

In one sense the amendments go a little further than amendment No. 22, which was tabled before the recess by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. I think that he will accept that his amendment might be effective against a school that said, "We cannot accept your child any longer as a pupil because you have exempted him from corporal punishment." It might be less effective against a school that said, "Your son has been disturbing the good order of the school. We cannot apply effective discipline because you have exempted him from corporal punishment so we are debarring him from school." Such an argument — where actual misbehaviour and the principle of corporal punishment are entangled—is undermined by the Government amendments, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides will accept that these amendments support the principle that parents should not be unduly penalised for their philosophical convictions as they might be if schools resorted to debarments as a way of escaping the Bill's provisions.

Amendment No. 22 is also in the name of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. I think that he will accept my interpretation of his amendment, which is that its intention is to ensure that pupils whose education is publicly funded and whose parents claimed or might claim an exemption from corporal punishment could not be debarred solely on account of that claim. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have considerable sympathy for the principle behind the amendment, so much so that a Government amendment has been put forward to reinforce it.

I certainly would not want to see a pupil debarred simply and solely because a parent had exempted him or intended to exempt him from corporal punishment. fact, the Government amendment attempts to go a little further than amendment No. 22 ensuring that pupils are not debarred directly or indirectly because their parents exercise their rights under the Bill.

Government amendment No. 29 is a minor, technical amendment which allows the whole of the Bill as it affects England and Wales to be cited as one with the Education Act 1944 and subsequent relevant legislation.

We welcome the fact that, in a sense, the Government have met us on this point. However, we regret that they did not meet us on more points.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

Punishment Policy

'Before the coming into force of this Act all local education authorities in England and Wales shall discuss their policy on school punishments, and issue local guidelines to all governing bodies in their area, who shall then arrange for their schools to discuss the guidelines, and prepare a report for the governors, who shall then decide the punishment policy for that school.'. —[Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to take the following amemdments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 6 leave out subsection (1) and insert—

'(1) Where in any civil or criminal proceedings it is shown that corporal punishment has been given to a pupil by or on the authority of a member of the staff, giving the punishment cannot be justified on the ground that it was done in pursuance of a right exercisable by the member of the staff by virtue of his position as such.'.
No. 17, in page 3, line 20, leave out clause 2.

No. 21, in clause 3, page 4, line 8, leave out subsections (1) to (4).

No 27, in page 4, line 37, leave out, 'This and'.

No. 30, in clause 4, page 5, line 7, leave out from '48A' to end of line 18 and insert—
'(1) Where in any civil or criminal proceedings it is shown that corporal punishment has been given to a pupil by or on the authority of a member of the staff, the giving of the punishment cannot be justified on the ground that it was done in pursuance of a right exercisable by a member of staff by virtue of his position as such.'.
No. 42, in page 7, leave out lines 1 to 38.

No. 43, in page 7, leave out from line 39 to line 11 on page 8.

I hope that new clause 3 will be acceptable to the House.

I should like to begin by talking to amendments Nos. 1, 17, 21, 27, 30, 42 and 43. Taken together, the amendments set out the view of the Opposition, which is that we should have an abolition Bill rather than this half measure that the Government are putting forward. Although we put it on the record clearly on Second Reading and in Committee that we would have preferred an abolition Bill, it is worth repeating, to make it absolutely clear, that on a matter of principle we think that corporal punishment should be abolished in all our schools. It is now perfectly possible for the Government to do so.

Corporal punishment is a barbaric practice. When so many people go out of their way to express their horror at the violence in our society, and argue that they want to do all that they can to reduce violence, it is amazing that they still believe that by bringing violence into the classroom we can give people good examples that will not lead to violence later. The more one encourages the use of violence in education, the more likely one is to create a society in which people think that violence can, on occasions, be justified.

Therefore, I would have much preferred the Government to come forward with a clear statement of principle that they believe that, in education, corporal punishment in any of its forms is totally unnecessary. Going round the country, I find it attractive that the vast majority of good schools have managed to phase out corporal punishment altogether. I have been amazed to find that, even when I have gone to areas where authorities have abolished corporal punishment and some teachers had reservations when abolition was announced, in almost every instance the teachers have come to accept that. If one looks at the amount of school violence, one sees that there seems to be a strong correlation between the decline of violence among pupils and the abolition of corporal punishment. Therefore, I hoped very much that, even at this late stage, the Government would turn this Bill into a straightforward abolition Bill.

If the Government will not go along the lines of abolition as a matter of principle, I argue strongly that they should look at the problems of the costs involved in the legislation and the creation of a substantial bureaucracy, which will be resented by many schools. Many schools will probably interpret the Bill as an abolition Bill. When one goes round schools, one finds that almost all are under pressure from cuts of one sort or another. Many local authorities seem to feel that rather than cut teaching staff, it is easier to cut back on the hours of the school secretary or people involved in administration. Sometimes those cuts are ill-advised because it means that teachers and heads end up doing more administration and less teaching and doing what they are most skilled at. It is a false economy to cut in that area. My impression is that most schools are hard pressed for secretarial assistance. Even in a primary school, having to send all the letters—

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Labour party, when in government, did not abolish corporal punishment in schools? The European convention on human rights has been with us for a long time. Furthermore, will he explain why the Labour chairman of Mid-Glamorgan education committee described the campaigners for abolition as

"just not living in the real world."
That quotation comes from The Times of 10 January 1984.

I am well aware of the views of the chairman of Mid-Glamorgan local authority. I see that the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), is saying that he is a very good man.

Questions of local democracy are involved. There are problems in persuading all those who support the Labour party that the views that I am expressing are the right ones. However, I believe that if people stop and look at all the evidence, on the whole they come round to the abolition point of view. I have made it clear to the House that when I was a teacher, in one of the first schools that I worked in I was involved in using corporal punishment. I very much regret it. It was a measure of some of the problems that we used to face in schools. If one is faced with a class of 42 pupils or more, treating each one as an individual and being prepared to look at the problems of each individual is extremely difficult. It is also difficult if the school structure is not good. However, if class sizes are made much smaller and we work at creating an atmosphere of discipline in the school, which is good and supportive of new teachers who are in their probationary period, it is perfectly possible to run a good school without resort to corporal punishment.

I am not giving way.

In Europe, there has never been any question of corporal punishment in many schools, and no one has suggested that there is a need for it. I argue strongly that there is a good case for us being able to abolish it. With regard to what the Labour Government did or did not do, there is a whole series of areas in which I should like to see education advance and in which I regret that more progress was not made during that period.

Based on experience in Committee, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's position on corporal punishment has been so eroded by the nonsense of the Bill that abolition is now inevitably on the way and that the Government's last defensive stand is clearly just a gesture? Does my hon. Friend agree that both sides of the House, the entire educational world and most of the electorate realise that the major step has been taken and that the principle that we espouse is bound to win in the end?

6.30 pm

Yes, I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

If the Government will not go for abolition as a matter of principle, they should consider the costs involved in the scheme and the extra burden on school administration. As the Minister knows, most school secretaries are under considerable pressure. Due to cuts in supplies of books and other materials there is increasing pressure to have such materials duplicated or photocopied in the school, which places an increasing burden on secretaries and administration. There is also an increasing demand for statistical information, for which Parliament is sometimes to blame.

The combination of cuts and extra duties has placed ever-increasing burdens on school administration in recent years and the Government's scheme will exacerbate the situation. Letters will have to be sent to parents to ask for their views. A second set of letters will then have to be sent out and the register kept up to date. Moreover, it is important that all those tasks should be accurately carried out. In the past four weeks I have visited about 15 schools. In every case, whether or not the school already does without corporal punishment, the head took the view that the procedure in the Bill was unworkable and that the school would regard it as an abolition measure rather than try to administer such a scheme. I appreciate that it will be necessary to persuade the school governors, but that is the clear view of the head teachers.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the cost of the system proposed in the Bill. Is he aware that, according to a report in Teacher last year, Leeds city council estimated that alternatives to corporal punishment would cost it about £3 million and require the appointment of about 280 extra teachers?

The hon. Gentleman's figures are interesting, but he should consider what is obtained as a result. Whether caning children persuades them to be helpful, conforming pupils who will benefit from their education is quite another matter. I accept that setting up special units may be quite expensive, but they may also provide much better value for money. I am worried, however, that too much emphasis is being placed on corporal punishment and too little on school discipline in general.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the withdrawal units—often described as sanctuaries or sin bins—are an increasingly popular means of dealing with disruptive pupils and that in 1977 there were 239 such units in England with accommodation for 3,900 pupils? As the hon. Gentleman knows, the cost of such units is considerable. The units visited by Her Majesty's inspectorate dealt with 1,890 pupils at a cost of 235 full-time and 86 part-time teachers. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will comment on that.

Certainly some of the so-called sin bins are very expensive and some, I believe, are unnecessary.

That brings me nicely on to new clause 3. It is important to abolish corporal punishment, but it is even more important to have a useful debate on the whole subject of discipline. In that sense, I regret that the Government have introduced this Bill rather than a far more comprehensive measure on school discipline as a whole. I believe that far more attention should be devoted to that aspect. I hope that when local authorities and school governors consider this measure they will not spend all their time arguing about whether to have corporal punishment in their schools but will spend far more time discussing the code of discipline to be used in their schools.

I hope that the role of parents will also be considered in depth. Too often, schools expect parents to take the lead in maintaining discipline while parents expect the school to do so, when what is needed is co-operation. Neither should attempt to shrug off the responsibility or, to the other. Problems of discipline and behaviour should be discussed with parents at an early stage to secure cooperation between the parents and the school and, if possible, the pupil.

The Bill should provide an opportunity for all local authorities to review the whole question of the form of discipline acceptable in their schools. There should be full discussion in the schools as to the sanctions required. The local authority or the school governors will then make the policy decision.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) was worried about the cost of the so-called sin bins. In a sense, the extent to which local authorities use them, sometimes more than necessary, worries me less than the practice of some authorities in allowing governors to suspend pupils and to do very little about them thereafter. I referred in Committee to a child in my constituency who was suspended for a long period following incidents at school and in my view was not receiving any proper education during that period. Far too often pupils in their third or fourth year of secondary school are suspended for long periods during which they receive extremely inadequate education.

The hon. Gentleman said that this subject led him on nicely to new clause 3. Perhaps I may refer to the actual wording of the new clause rather than to the hon. Gentleman's comments. It states:

"Before the coming into force of this Act all local education authorities in England and Wales shall discuss their policy on school punishments, and issue local guidelines to all governing bodies in their area, who shall then arrange for their schools to discuss the guidelines, and prepare a report for the governors, who shall then decide the punishment policy for that school."
Nothing whatever is said about the criteria to be used in the guidelines, an omission which seems to me so fundamental as to make the new clause utterly meaningless. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will inform us of the criteria that he believes should be applied.

The hon. Gentleman said that he believed that corporal punishment should be abolished altogether, but I suggest—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into detailed arguments that he might raise if called to speak in the debate.

I gave way to the hon. Member for Stafford somewhat generously, in the hope that if he dealt with some of the points in an intervention he would not wish to make a speech.

The Opposition believe in local democracy. We believe that, within some guidelines, local authorities should make up their own minds. We firmly believe that corporal punishment should be abolished, but we want local authorities to be allowed to make up their own minds.

Some local authorities have set up special units or sin bins. That is a matter for the local authorities. It is most important that each local authority and governing body should debate not just the merits and demerits of corporal punishment but the wider issues. The aim of the new clause is to suggest that there should be a thorough-going review of the punishment system and, in particular, of the whole issue of suspension—the circumstances in which suspension is resorted to, what the local authority does once a pupil has been suspended and what attempts are made to ensure that a youngster suspended from school is given a proper education.

The local authority should also consider the question of transferring pupils to special schools for the maladjusted. There is evidence that some children are pushed in that direction simply because a particular school finds them difficult to handle. The House spent much time debating the Education Act 1981, which dealt with special education. We all supported the principle of trying to integrate pupils with special educational needs into the mainstream schools. It is not good practice to exclude children from schools because of discipline problems, and we should try to create a system in which mainstream schools are given support so that they can continue to educate such children themselves.

I have talked to a teacher working in a withdrawal unit to which pupils are sent because they have been suspended. His brief was clear. It was to try to create an atmosphere in which children could be returned to mainstream schools as soon as possible. In practice, children at that unit do not return promptly to mainstream schools because they enjoy the education offered in the unit so much that they want to stay there. Why cannot similar conditions be created in mainstream schools, so that the youngster is happy to be taught in his own school rather than in a withdrawal unit?

There is evidence that some heads, especially in large comprehensive schools, run what are in fact withdrawal units within the school. That is another matter that the local authority should discuss. There should be a thorough-going review by all local authorities of the question of the proper policy, within that local authority, on discipline in schools. Such a review would be as important, in a sense, as this legislation—certainly in its present form.

Who has control over the final decision—the local authority or the school governors? It was disappointing to see that amendment No. 18 does not appear on the selection list, although I understand the reasons why it does not. I hope that it will be in order for me to deal briefly with the questions raised in that amendment, as they are also relevant to new clause 3.

The question is whether the Bill is neutral in terms of the relationship between the local authority and the school governors, whether it is rather more positive and removes from the local authority power to make a decision about corporal punishment and to make that decision stick, or whether it confers a decision-making power on the governors. The Minister insisted in Committee that the Bill is neutral and that it is not his intention to change the relationship between the local authority and the school governors. However, I have here a letter from Peter Wallington of the university of Lancaster's department of law, who suggests that the Bill is not neutral. I also have a letter from Stephen Sedley, QC, who makes a similar point.

6.45 pm

Clause 3(1) of the Bill places a special duty on the governing body. The argument in the two letters is that if the Bill gives the governing body a special duty, it is hard for the Minister to argue that it is neutral. There would be a strong presumption in the courts that if the Bill conferred a duty on the governing body—what the Bill refers to as the "responsible body"—that body would be able to exercise that duty. The Minister says, however, that the local authority has overriding powers. I hope that he will make his position clear. That may be a point to which the House of Lords will wish to give further consideration.

My impression is that the clause is not neutral and that it transfers the powers from the local authority to the governing body. That would be unfortunate because the strength of many governing bodies is the fact that the members work as a team. Within most of them there is very little sense of a political divide, and on the whole they work for the good of the school rather than being directed by political considerations or any other policy. It would not be good for the governing bodies to find themselves divided by arguments about corporal punishment. They should act on a basis of consensus.

Also, if it turned out that local authorities did not have power to abolish corporal punishment, some authorities might be tempted to pack the governing bodies. The Minister would not want that to happen. I hope that he will make it clear that it will still be possible for a local authority to decide whether it wants corporal punishment and that if a local authority decides that it does not want corporal punishment, the governors will not be able to overturn that decision.

It is sad that we are not discussing an abolition Bill. I would very much welcome Government acceptance of amendments Nos. 1, 17, 21, 27, 30, 42 and 43, which would turn the Bill into an abolition Bill, but I would be very much surprised by Government acceptance of those amendments. However, I hope that the Minister will make it clear that he wants all local authorities, governing bodies and teachers to review discipline in their schools and to consider what is needed, and will also make it clear that he will take account of the complicated administration necessitated by the Bill and will consider the question of abolition. I hope that he will confirm that this is indeed a neutral Bill, in spite of the fact that we have had much legal advice that it is far from neutral and that it alters the relationship between the local authorities and the governing bodies.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) on his remarks, to which I have listened with interest although I have heard them on a number of occasions in Standing Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) made a point about the chairman of the mid-Glamorgan education authority. In reply, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish talked about local decision-making and local democracy. I understand his point, but the question of local democracy and decision-making can be used to make a case for precisely the policy that the hon. Gentleman fears —the belief that governing bodies should have some rights of veto or self-determination if they wish to apply corporal punishment in their schools even though the local education authority may be politically, philosophically or morally opposed to it.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the increase in bureaucracy. I listened with interest to what he said. I cannot share his vision of the future—many extra hours of work being imposed on school clerical staff —although I accept that there will be some extra work. However, a tremendous amount of extra work will fall on school clerical staff and teaching staff if there is an increase in the number of expulsions and suspensions. Many governing bodies discuss expulsions and suspensions. Reports are asked for, and they are often submitted to the local education authority. That process involves typing checking, reformulation, copying and postage, all of which involve extra expenditure and work. I therefore had double vision when listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned the increase in the number of withdrawal units or sin bins, as they are known more euphemistically. I regret the number of such establishments. Indeed, I regret crime and sin, but they exist. I therefore accept the need in certain circumstances for units to which disruptive children may be withdrawn for their own good and that of their fellows.

Will the Minister admit that the growth in their numbers has occurred irrespective of whether the local authority has a policy of allowing corporal punishment, and that it has often grown where there is still far too much corporal punishment?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point but not with his second. Nevertheless, I regret the increase in the number of sin bins for the reasons that I have given.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned discussion and the constant review of policy on discipline, the problems and incidence of misbehaviour, and how a school, communities, parents and teachers react to its growth. All local education authorities, teachers, governors, and parents should be anxious about the growth of misbehaviour and misdemeanour and review constantly their attitude to and policies for meeting those problems. That happens in many local authorities, irrespective of their political persuasion.

I shall urge the House to resist new clause 3 because there is no necessity for local authorities to go to the lengths suggested by it. The best approach must be for education authorities to leave these matters to schools. Disciplinary sanctions are best handled at school level because much depends on how a school operates and its ethos. Local authorities are often not well placed to lay down guidelines.

Schools will need time to discuss disciplinary issues before an exemptions scheme comes into force. Discussions might well extend beyond the narrow issue of corporal punishment, and I therefore imagine that the debate which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish wants will occur in many local education authorities. There is no need to stipulate precisely how those discussions should be organised. The initiative can and ought to come from schools.

I am surprised by new clause 3 as it seems to leave punishment issues to governing bodies in the last resort. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has sought assurances that the Bill is not intended to prevent local education authorities from banning corporal punishment, yet new clause 3 seems to give the last word to governing bodies.

I accept that criticism, but I should think that the Minister is aware that, if amendment No. 18 had been selected, we should have been able to make our stance clear. I referred to that amendment. The new clause would have been better worded if it was clearly neutral, but it is a little unfair for the Minister to chide me for that when he has not managed, so far, to answer our criticism that his Bill is not neutral.

I shall deal with that matter after considering the amendments in the group.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the same professor of law at the University of Lancaster has produced another report, which has everything to do with the miners' dispute? Perhaps my hon. Friend would be good enough to give his view on that?

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. My reaction is one of interest. If there are fears about the intentions behind the Bill, there is an answer which I am sure will settle them.

The amendments in the group are intended to abolish corporal punishment. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has returned to this theme often. I am not surprised by the incidence and type of the amendments. Opposition Members have tried steadfastly to turn the Bill into one which abolishes corporal punishment. On behalf of the Government, I have resisted such attempts, and do so again now. It has been argued that schools' use of reasonable and moderate corporal punishment is so wrong and so utterly inappropriate that the law should ban it. I disagree, as do many thousands of teachers and parents.

Whatever place we accord to this form of punishment in the disciplinary regime of a school— we all have views about that — I cannot accept that, by its very nature, it is a sanction that ought to be banned by law. We are discussing reasonable and moderate corporal punishment. Opponents of corporal punishment use Loaded guilt-inducing words such as beatings, floggings and thrashings. They use the language of extremes. The point at issue is reasonable and moderate measures to impose discipline and to confront unruly or bullying behaviour.

Other people take a more pragmatic approach. They argue about the effectiveness of corporal punishment and say that it is so ineffective that the law should be invoked to prohibit its use. Thousands of teachers and parents—those close to the daily problems — take an opposite view about its efficiency. They believe that it has a useful function. I am ready to leave judgment about that to schools and parents and am not prepared to go along with the view that we should enforce abolition through legislation, simply because some believe that so many teachers and parents are wrong.

It has been argued that, although parents might favour reasonable and moderate corporal punishment for other children, they oppose it for their own, I disagree and, apparently, so do many parents. Indeed, on the very day on which the Standing Committee has its final meeting, The Times published the results of a MORI poll. Leaving aside the "Don't knows", some 63 per cent. of parents interviewed favoured the use of corporal punishment in schools. Perhaps even more significantly, a slightly higher proportion— 65 per cent. — said that they would give schools permission to use corporal punishment on their children. It must be disconcerting to Opposition Members to see from the poll that among Labour and alliance supporters, some 60 per cent. of parents favour the use of corporal punishment in schools.

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The Government are not prepared to ignore figures such as those. That poll helped to demonstrate the real point of the Bill—that many parents and teachers wish to retain corporal punishment, and in our view, when parents and school agree about its use on a particular pupil, we should not intervene with an enforced ban.

My right hon. Friend rightly reports on the market research and on the fact that not for the first time the Opposition are out of touch with the electorate. A most persuasive factor is presumably the number of countries which still adhere to corporal punishment, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada and the Commonwealth. Those countries which have banned it—for example, France—have found that the alternatives are so inadequate that they have resorted to other functions. France has had to ensure that family allowance is withdrawn because it has been unable to find enough penalties.

From time to time it has been suggested that such a practice would occur here. I am not convinced that such a move would necessarily have the objective which some people might claim.

Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that although the power to withdraw family allowance technically exists in France, it is used hardly at all and that that is an unfair smear?

It is a perfectly legitimate view to advance. All hon. Members have the right to express their opinions. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) has advanced a view which is not unfamiliar to those of us who served in Committee. However, I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that the scheme as applied in France has not achieved the heights that were promised or expected.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to the Bill's neutrality. I gave him an undertaking in Committee and he has seen copies of correspondence that I have sent to Mr. Peter Newell of the Children's Legal Centre. I wrote to Mr. Newell on 4 April and sent copies to the hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friends who expressed an interest in the matter. On that occasion I pointed out that the Bill is broadly neutral. That is my reading of it and that is the advice that I have been given.

At present, school articles of government are the means by which responsibility for the conduct of a school—and that includes discipline and corporal punishment—is assigned. These articles of government vary between authorities and sometimes between schools within an authority, but usually they assign ultimate responsibility for discipline to school governing bodies, albeit often in imprecise terms. Some articles of government offer local education authorities general override powers—they are drawn up so as to give the local education authority the power to override the decisions of the governing body. Some local education authorities have used such provisions to impose an authority-wide ban on corporal punishment. Some others have achieved the same end by using their position as employers. Either through negotiations with teachers' unions or by recourse to general provisions within teachers' contracts of employment, the local education authorities have reached a position where the teachers are left in no doubt that as employees they are not expected to use and apply corporal punishment.

That is the background against which this matter should be considered. It is a grey area of overlapping and sometimes conflicting responsiblities and powers. I accept that the present position is unsatisfactory and that Parliament should settle the respective powers of head teachers, governing bodies and local education authorities in relation to school discipline, but I am opposed to using this Bill to clarify the position.

We would like the position clarified, but we are not arguing that this Bill ought to be the vehicle for clarifying the responsibility between governors and local authorities. We are suggesting that clause 3 positively says that in future the responsible body will be the governing body. That is our worry.

I should like to continue and perhaps I shall calm the hon. Gentleman's jangled nerves. He must know, as I do, that the partnership between the local education authority and schools is complex. I must say in all honesty that if the Government had to make a choice between giving control of corporal punishment to local education authorities or to schools, they would opt for the latter. That would be in line with the Government's reasoned case for a new legislative framework for schools as set out in the recent White Paper "Better Schools".

It is important not to look at corporal punishment in isolation. This issue is related to discipline and that in turn is related to the conduct of schools. Indeed, the whole relationship between heads, school governing bodies and local education authorities on a wide variety of topics should be considered together.

As the House knows, the White Paper envisages a new approach—a rational approach in which all aspects are considered alongside each other. It foreshadows legislative proposals to bring clarity out of this grey area, and that is the context in which changes should be discussed.

I know that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is greatly concerned that without an amendment those local education authorities which have abolished corporal punishment will be forced by the Bill to abandon that policy. I can assure him that such is not the Bill's intention, or my reading of it as it stands. It has been our intention that the Bill should be neutral on this question. But we need to distinguish between decisions about the keeping of registers — on which clause 2(2) has something to say — and decisions about the use of corporal punishment. The point is that clause 2 has to place on some party the responsibility for deciding whether a register is to be maintained, and, if it so decides, to ensure its proper maintenance. Where a local education authority has taken a prior decision to abolish corporal punishment and has a legal right to do so, a decision by the governing body to keep a register will have no practical effect. In the light of the information that I have given, I hope that the new clause and amendments will not be pressed to a Division.

I did not expect that I would persuade the Government to go along with an abolition measure. Therefore, I shall not press further amendment No. 1 and the others which would have turned the measure into an abolition Bill. However, I hope that in the other place some of their Lordships will return to the arguments in principle and to the impracticalities of the Bill.

As to new clause 3, I believe that most local authorities will have the debate for which I am calling. I am still concerned about the Minister's explanation of whether the power lies with the local authority or the governing body. I remain unconvinced, and am worried that the Minister said that if the Government had to choose they would put the responsibility with the governors, but that they were not choosing now. The Bill suggests that the Government are coming down on the side of the governors. I hope that we are wrong about that, and that local authorities and governing bodies will not be involved in litigation on the matter. It would not be to their advantage. I hope that they will accept the Minister's word that he intends to leave the position as it is, and that if a local authority chooses to abolish corporal punishment, it can do so. The Minister seemed to hint that the governors would be entitled to keep a register, and the local authority would be entitled to instruct all the teachers whom it employed not to administer corporal punishment. That would be farcical.

In the hope that the Minister is right and that what he says, rather than our interpretation of the words, is correct, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Punishment Book

Regulations made under section 2 of this Act and section 48B of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 shall provide that in schools where a register is maintained for the purposes of the administration of corporal punishment, a punishment book shall be kept in which shall be recorded all incidents of corporal punishment and all other punishments administered by the school to be equivalent to corporal punishment, to those pupils not on the register. '.—[Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 52, in schedule page 10, line 10, at end insert

'Maintenance of punishment book to record incidents of corporal punishment etc.'.

New clause 4 is an attempt to probe the Government about their intentions over the use of punishment books in schools when the regulations come into force. At present schools where corporal punishment is practised have a statutory duty to ensure that all acts of corporal punishment are recorded in the punishment book. That seems to be a sensible practice. In that way the governors can consider how frequently corporal punishment is administered. It records which punishments are given so that the governors can discuss the wider issues of the ethos of the school. The book provides an opportunity for an individual teacher to record that a punishment has taken place in case there should be a future court action. It also enables one to examine the punishment record of an individual pupil and to weigh up whether the school is the appropriate place for him and whether he is being appropriately dealt with. A head who sees the name of a pupil frequently entered in the punishment book must consider carefully whether the school is dealing with that pupil correctly. The punishment book serves a useful function in informing governors and in safeguarding teachers' and pupils' rights.

Will the Minister tell us how he envisages the punishment book developing under the dual system of punishment which is to operate in schools under this legislation? Some children will remain subject to corporal punishment because of their parents' agreement to it, and other pupils will not be subject to it because of their parents' objections to it. It would be completely unreasonable and unfair if only one set of names were entered in the punishment book for the same offence. It would be logical, where a school retains corporal punishment but does not use it on particular pupils, if two pupils committed a similar offence for which their names would be entered in a punishment book had they been subject to corporal punishment, that their names should be entered in the book with the alternative punishment recorded.

I would have thought that the Government could accept this amendment. The Minister may be able to convince us that it is unnecessary. However, I hope that the practice of recording serious offences will continue. I hope that schools will not administer corporal punishment if the offence is not serious. That way over a period of time governing bodies can consider the style and ethos of punishments in the school. There will also be safeguards for the teaching staff, and the opportunity for heads and senior teachers, especially in secondary schools, to review the way in which the school is dealing with a particular pupil and to decide whether the punishments being meted out are leading to a change in the pupil's behaviour or reinforcing his misbehaviour undesirably. I hope that the Minister will look with sympathy at an amendment along these lines or introduce a Government amendment in the other place.

7.15 pm

I have always contended that this is a bad, unworkable Bill, which is why I have been unable to get worked up about opposing it. New clause 4 is a good idea. It is desirable to have as much information about school discipline and punishment as possible. The Department of Education and Science does not know the number or racial composition of children who are suspended from schools. I know that because I asked a question and was told so. I do not know how the Department can formulate a policy from a position of complete ignorance, but it has.

It is not the end of the story for parents to opt into corporal punishment because they may approve in theory but change their minds when they find that their child's school uses the cane often or harshly. Parents must have information before they make the choice. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) wants incidents of discipline that are considered to be so serious as to merit corporal punishment to be recorded. He wishes to ensure, where corporal punishment is not administered because a child is exempt from it, that where a caned child's name appears frequently in the book, he will not be branded a trouble-maker if he is not doing anything worse than a child who is not caned. The amendment therefore relates to equality.

Since I have known the Minister, and certainly during the passage of the Bill, his most uplifting remark was during the last group of amendments when he said that there was no need to stipulate precisely how these things are done. That should be the working title of this Bill—"There is no need to stipulate precisely how these things are done." I hope that when the Bill goes to another place and when, in future, educationists read our discussions, people will bear in mind that new clause 4 is a good idea. Its provisions should be carried out in practice. Even if it is not enshrined in law, the keeping of a register and the amassing of proper concrete information will always be helpful to education.

On consideration of the amendment I have come to the conclusion that it is bad and that we would be wrong to accept it. The part of the new clause that leads me to that decision states that in a punishment book shall be recorded.

"all other punishments administered by the school to be equivalent to corporal punishment, to those pupils not on the register."
It is hard enough to define corporal punishment. In reading the responses to the large number of letters that I received from headmasters in my constituency—I received more than 40 about the Bill—I conclude that for all its faults the Bill will be welcomed.

However, I wish to draw attention to the problem of defining what is meant by corporal punishment. I shall give two examples. I received a letter from a headmistress of a primary school. She said that some months ago she had occasion to punish a group of boys aged between seven and nine who were fighting during break and disobeying the requests of the school dinner ladies. I remind the House that we are dealing with the practical problems of running schools. When the boys were brought before the head teacher she happened to be using a ruler to complete a diagram. She decided that a quick tap with the ruler on the hand was the best course of punishment. She had never used the ruler prior to that occasion and had rarely smacked a child. She thought no more of the incident, which had the desired effect. The young men were so shocked — not hurt — that they behaved beautifully for the rest of the day. That evening the head teacher received a phone call from a parent who asked what had happened and whether the head teacher had the right to punish the pupils. The parent reported the action to county hall and the governors, and the head teacher had a distressing week while the parent deliberated whether to sue her for assault. The parent insisted that the head teacher apologise to the child, which the head teacher refused to do. However, she apologised to the parent for misreading "cane" to mean "ruler" — no cane being available—in local education authority instructions. The governors decided not to pursue the matter with the authority, but the head teacher has now received a letter stating that that child must not, in any circumstances, be punished physically. That is on record for all the staff to see.

Another head teacher in my constituency wrote to me saying that, in 14 years as a headmaster, he had neither needed nor used the cane at any time, and that the standard of discipline and behaviour in his school was considered excellent and that the control of children was administered fairly to all at all times. He is sure that most parents would support him in retaining the right, in loco parentis, to smack a child for such offences as telling lies, using bad language or being rude to an adult.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wishes to get on record the letters from head teachers in his constituency. I do not blame him for that, but he is trying to criticise my new clause on this basis. Is it not the Bill that presents the problem of definition? The Minister made it clear that the Bill included the smack. Although I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for making it clear that there are problems of definition, I hope that he will use that as criticism of the Bill, not of the new clause.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making my point for me. I am trying to point out that there is a problem of definition. If we cannot define, and if it is not generally appreciated by head teachers, what is meant by corporal punishment, it is ludicrous to expect a head teacher or anyone else to decide an equivalent to corporal punishment, as the new clause suggests. On those grounds, I shall oppose the new clause.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) said that statistics are necessary to formulate policy. I should tell him that my Department does not formulate policy without information from a variety of sources, including surveys conducted with local education authorities, what people tell us in the House and elsewhere and HMI reports, on which we rely heavily. We are not entirely without the knowledge at which he hinted in his remarks.

Punishment books are kept by and in schools because of paragraph 6 of DES administrative memorandum 531, which everyone knows is dated 10 May 1956—a very good year for several things.

If the hon. Gentleman has the time and patience, I will name many things that happened in 1956, including my 10th birthday.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was right about the definition of equivalents or alternatives. I can imagine much debate continuing in education authorities, in rooms in which school government is discussed and maintained, about what is an equivalent. The mind races a little at the prospect of a star system, with two brown stars or three red stars being awarded for offences. The child can build up something like a green shield stamp book—a passport to infamy, and possibly expulsion and suspension. I do not believe that that was in the mind of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. One can imagine the bureaucracy that would be involved in the creation of a bible of definitions for use by those responsible for the control of children in school.

There should be no difficulty about keeping a record of all cases of corporal punishment, because such a requirement has been carried out since 1956. Schools do that now, and to that extent the new clause is unnecessary. However, the amendment goes further than that in an extremely selective way. It extends the record-keeping which schools would have to do. Although the hon. Gentleman was concerned earlier about the growth of bureaucracy, his new clause seeks to increase it. I note that, as the new clause is framed, schools not using corporal punishment would be free from the new burden. That seems to make it an extra chore, or an additional penalty to be imposed on schools that dare to apply corporal punishment.

But even if that were not the case, I would oppose the new clause. The extra records might be interesting, but they would not be essential to the life of the school, and for a large secondary school there would be practical difficulties. In any one day, many sorts of disciplinary sanctions might be used, and the school would have to devise a method of collecting all the information and deciding which punishments were equivalent to corporal punishment so that entries could be made in the punishment book. Whereas a corporal punishment register is an essential part of an exemptions scheme, this punishment book clearly is not and would not be essential.

Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the new clause to a Division.

I am disappointed by the Minister's response because he does not seem to consider natural justice. Let us assume that two pupils are caught smoking behind the cycle sheds. One is on the register and the other is not. I do not say that either of them should have to suffer corporal punishment for smoking, but I am aware that in some schools it is still a fairly regular punishment. The pupil who is on the register will be given corporal punishment, and the punishment book will record that he was given one or two strokes of the cane or the strap for smoking behind the bicycle shed. Nothing will be recorded for the other pupil. Whatever alternative punishment the head decides is appropriate for that pupil, there is no requirement to record it. Therefore, in 10 years' time, someone can look through the punishment book and see that the first pupil was caned, but the other pupil will have no record.

That is unfair and not good for the school's administration, because over a period there will be a tendency to examine the punishment book and see that the names of some pupils occur fairly frequently. The pupils whose parents have insisted that they should not be subject to corporal punishment may have been punished in alternative ways, yet their names will not be in the book. In terms of natural justice between the two pupils, it must be logical to record both names.

I accept that, as the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, there are problems of definition, but they relate to the Bill, not to the new clause. The hon. Gentleman will have to explain to the head teachers in his constituency that, whatever his view of corporal punishment and whatever their view, once the Bill is implemented, even a smack will count as corporal punishment and can, therefore, be administered only to pupils whose names are on the register. Since it will count as corporal punishment, it will also have to be recorded in the punishment book. Teachers will have to take those matters into account as a result of the definition of corporal punishment chosen by the Minister.

The hon. Gentleman gives an example of two pupils caught smoking behind the bicycle sheds and of one receiving punishment, but the other receiving a different punishment because he was exempted. We must not forget that the head teacher and staff have some say in the punishment applied other than corporal punishment, and they must apply a judgment as to what appears to be fair to the children. Additionally, the difficulty that I outlined of collecting information at the end of the day, week or month and then recording it, is an insuperable point. However, if a school wished to have two books —a corporal punishment book and an equivalents book —there is no reason why it should not do so, if it can afford the time and the bureaucracy to make such a book work.

There is a strong argument for keeping a record of serious punishment. Most teachers at schools where serious punishment is meted out probably believe that a record is necessary. Indeed, I hope that corporal punishment is used only for serious cases. An overall record should be kept of what is happening in a school so that people can judge whether the sanctions are working. A secondary school would be ill-administered if there was not some attempt to record information about punishments meted out to a pupil who was, perhaps, not as co-operative as he might be. It is obvious that at this stage I cannot persuade the Minister to accept new clause 4. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1

Restriction On Corporal Punishment Of Pupils

7.30 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 4, leave out

'or an immediate danger to the property of'.
This is one area of the Bill in which we feel that the Government have not considered the question of degree. Where a pupil is likely to cause physical harm to a member of staff, another pupil or himself, it is important that it is clear that the member of staff is entitled to use whatever force necessary to restrain the pupil. However, to extend that right to the defence of property involves a question of degree. If a pupil was thought likely to set fire to a school or to carry out substantial damage to property, everyone would accept the right of a teacher to intervene and to use force to prevent that. However, the Government do not qualify
"an immediate danger to the property".
I understand the difficulties of including qualifications in legislation. However, the word "substantial" before "danger to the property" would clarify the matter.

I remember going into a classroom and seeing a pupil deliberately snapping a ruler. That made me very cross, but it would not have justified my setting about the pupil physically. As I understand the Bill, any item of property would fall within the wording of the clause. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will clarify the degree of damage involved. I regret that the Bill does not tie down the whole question of degree.

The Bill as it stands, through clause 1(3), reinforces the common law right to take action, even where that action amounts to a battery, to prevent harm coming to a person or property. The amendment would remove that reinforcement insofar as it extends to the protection of property.

The Opposition amendment implies that, while it may be fine to take physical steps to prevent a pupil from harming another person or himself, it is unwarranted to do so when it is property rather than a person in immediate danger. The House cannot accept that proposition.

Let us imagine for a moment that a boy is discovered with a lighted match in hand, about to set fire to an empty classroom. Let us also imagine that neither the pupil nor the teacher would have been in any immediate danger from such an action. In those circumstances, is the teacher to be forced to resort to persuasion? Is the teacher to attempt to discover whether or not the boy is exempt before seizing hold of him to prevent the deed?

Let us remember that the general definition of corporal punishment is widely drawn. Opposition Members have made no complaint about the use of battery as the broad basis for that definition. But that needs to be tempered by common sense. It goes against reason to suppose that teachers can or should stand idly by while pupils do what they will to property, whether it is their own, their parents, or the school's.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: No. 7, in page 2, line 19, leave out 'section 2' and insert
'sections [exemption from corporal punishment not ground for suspension, etc.] and 2'—[Mr. Dunn.]

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 24, leave out from 'school' to end of line 27 and insert

'maintained or assisted by a Minister of the Crown (including a school of which a government department is the proprietor) or assisted by a local education authority, being a school prescribed by regulations under section 2 of this Act or within a category so prescribed'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 9, in page 2, line 24, leave out from 'school' to end of line 27.

Government amendments Nos. 34 to 36.

No. 37, in clause 4, page 6, line 13, leave out from 'school' to end of line 14.

An important principle underlying the Bill is that the exemptions scheme should extend to publicly funded school places. There is a relatively small number of places at independent schools that come within that description, but which are not caught by the present wording of clauses 1 and 4. The amendments close that loophole and, in particular, would allow the Secretary of State, under regulations, to bring within the scheme United Kingdom schools owned and run by Government Departments. They would also allow the Secretary of State to act similarly with schools that are assisted by local education authorities under section 9 of the Education Act 1944.

Does the Minister believe that any schools are excluded from the provision other than the independent schools that receive no state assistance?

I believe that I am right in saying that, having listened to the concerns expressed to me by the hon. Gentleman, what we have now proposed will meet that position entirely. However, I am always open to listen to him or anyone else who believes that there are other schools involved, and would be pleased to have such schools brought to my attention.

I hope that the House will resist amendments Nos. 9 and 37. They attempt to bring independent schools into line with maintained schools. They seek to extend arrangements for exemption from corporal punishment to all pupils in independent schools, with no distinctions being made.

To consider that proposal, we need to look at the origins of the Bill. We have said plainly that the Bill arises from the case of Campbell and Cosans, heard in the European Court of Human Rights. The court's judgment was that the UK's education arrangements did not accord with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government have introduced the Bill so that those arrangements will accord with the convention. The Bill is not intended to go further than that.

We then need to ask ourselves whether, to meet that objective, we must bring all parents of all pupils within the scheme introduced by the Bill. The answer is no. We need not interfere with the generality of private contracts that are freely made between parents and independent schools. Most parents of children at independent schools have sent their children there because they wanted to do so, and the state is not directly responsible for the education of those children. The UK will therefore have discharged its obligations under the convention if, through the maintained sector, we have offered adequate provision that parents with philosophical convictions against corporal punishment can use if they so wish or desire.

The Government acknowledge, however, that there are cases involving independent schools where the state has assumed some direct responsibilities and where the new arrangements must be made, and clause 1 indentifies and caters for those cases. But they are a small minority, and in the main we need not and should not interfere with the private plans of parents who use the independent sector, or with independent schools which are well used to meeting the requirements of those who turn to them for the education of their children.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made; No. 13, in page 3, line 10, leave out 'section 2' and insert
'sections [exemption from corporal punishment not ground for suspension, etc.] and 2'—[Mr. Dunn.]

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 3, leave out line 14 and insert

'teacher who works at the school and any other person who has lawful control or charge of the pupil and works there, and'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 15, 40 and 41.

In Standing Committee there was some concern that the wording of the Bill might indirectly increase the number of people who could claim to be acting in loco parentis. It was argued that broad references to any person working at a school might be taken to include employees such as caretakers or cleaners, who in the normal course of events would not have the care and control of children, and that there might be an assumption that such employees could readily and lawfully resort to corporal punishment.

It was not the Government's intention to change the existing position. We wish neither to increase nor to decrease the numbers who could claim to be acting in loco parentis. This series of amendments has been put forward to ease anxieties on that score. They make it plain that we are here dealing with teachers and others at school who have dealing with teachers and others at school who have lawful control or charge of pupils.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 15, in page 3, line 17, leave out from 'any' to end of line 19 and insert
'teacher employed by the authority who works at that place and any other person employed by the authority who has lawful control or charge of the pupil and works there'.—[Mr. Dunn.]

Clause 3

Supplementary Provision

I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 4, line 27, after '1944', insert

'and section 231 of the Local Government Act 1972'.

It will be convenient to consider at the same time Government amendments Nos. 24, 25, 44, 45, and 46.

These amendments concern the service of documents on local authorities. At present, this is governed in England and Wales by section 231 of the Local Government Act 1972, which provides that documents are to be served by delivery or by posting to the authority's principal office or to any other office of the authority specified by it for the purpose. Section 190 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 makes similar provision for Scotland.

It is necessary to disapply those sections because, under the Bill and the regulations to be made under clause 2, parents of certain children will be serving a document on local authorities in the form of a return of their views. The children concerned are those in maintained nursery schools and those educated by an authority otherwise than at school, because in both cases the local authority will be the responsible body. In many instances it will be more convenient for parents to make the return direct to the nursery school or in some other way. This series of amendments makes it possible for the regulations to cover that point.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made:

No. 24, in page 4, line 28, leave out 'does' and insert 'do'.

No. 25, in page 4, line 30, after 'school', insert

'or the local education authority'.

No. 26, in page 4, line 35, after 'that', insert

'section [exemption from corporal punishment not ground for suspension, etc.] of this Act or'.

No. 29, in page 4, line 41, leave out from '1984' to 'may' and insert

'this and the preceding sections and the Schedule to this Act'. —[Mr. Dunn.]

Clause 4

Restriction On Corporal Punishment Of Pupils— Scotland

Amendments made:

No. 33, in page 6, line 4, leave out 'section 48B' and insert 'sections 48B and 48D'.

No. 34, in page 6, line 7, leave out 'or'.

No. 35, in page 6, line 8, at end insert

'or (iii) at an independent school maintained or assisted by a Minister of the Crown being a school prescribed by regulations under section 48B of this Act or within a category so prescribed,'.

No. 36, in page 6, line 13, after 'school', insert

'not falling within paragraph (a)(iii) above'.

No. 39, in page 6, line 33, leave out 'section 48B' and insert 'sections 48B and 48D'.

No. 40, in page 6, line 37, leave out

'person working at the school'

and insert

'teacher who works at the school and any other person who has lawful control or charge of the pupil and works there'.

No. 41, in page 6, line 42, leave out from 'any' to end of line 44 and insert

'teacher employed by the authority who works at that place and any other person employed by the authority who has lawful control or charge of the pupil and works there.'.

No. 44, in page 8, line 1, after 'Act', insert

'and section 190 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973'.

No. 45, in page 8, line 2, leave out 'does' and insert 'do'.

No. 46, in page 8, line 4, after 'school', insert 'or the education authority'.

No. 47, in page 8, line 11, after 'are', insert

'or section 48D of this Act is,'.

No. 48, in page 8, line 11, at end insert—

'Exemption from corporal punishment not ground for exclusion, etc.

48D. A person shall not be debarred from receiving education in any circumstances (whether by refusing him admission to a school, excluding him from a school or otherwise) on the grounds that, if he were not so debarred in those circumstances, he would not be adequately amenable to discipline by reason of his being a pupil exempt from corporal punishment by members of the staff for the purposes of section 48A of this Act.".'.—[Mr. Dunn.]

Clause 7

Short Title, Commencement And Extent

Amendments made:

No. 49, in page 9, line 7, after '1', insert

'[exemption from corporal punishment not ground for suspension, etc.]'.

No. 51, in page 9, line 11, leave out 'of' and insert

'and [exemption from corporal punishment not ground for suspension, etc.] of and the Schedule to'.—[Mr. Dunn.]

7.42 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am delighted that we have reached this stage of the Bill. The measure had a short time in Standing Committee and has had a short, though exhaustive and detailed, consideration on Report today.

The Bill has always been concerned with parental rights. It gives parents a new right without taking away their existing ones. That new right is the ability to claim for their children exemption from corporal punishment at school. For any pupil covered by the Bill, either the parent or the school can seek such exemption, and the pupil then becomes exempt.

In short, the Bill assumes a partnership between parents and schools, and if either or both believe that corporal punishment is an inappropriate sanction for a pupil, the Bill gives the pupil protection against its use.

Opposition Members would have it otherwise, and they have never claimed anything different. They want neither parents nor schools, nor the two jointly, to have a say in the matter. The enforced abolition of corporal punishment is the only solution that they would accept. Nothing short of that would satisfy them. Parental and school views would be swept aside and legislation used to achieve a universal ban on reasonable and moderate corporal punishment.

I am glad to say that the Government are not prepared to go down that road. If parents and those who provide education take the view that corporal punishment is necessary, the law should not be used to prevent that view from prevailing.

Some local education authorities impose a ban on corporal punishment. The Bill will have a neutral impact — the minimum possible — on that situation. Indeed, under the Bill, local education authorities which have the legal right to impose such a ban on their schools will retain that right. However, that is different from the imposition of a ban by central Government through legislation.

If a local authority were to change hands, particularly from Labour to Conservative—as will happen in many authorities on 2 May — it will be a matter for the authority to decide on a code of discipline and to discuss, within the various chambers available to it, the form that such discipline should take.

My expectation is that parents will welcome this new right and will exercise it responsibly. I hope that parents and schools will co-operate so that, in the end, discipline and standards of behaviour improve.

The Bill has been criticised on a number of grounds. It has been said that it is impractical or unfair, or that it does not go far enough. As the House knows, our view is that it may not be the ideal solution. To me, the ideal would have been to leave things as they were, largely unregulated by statute. That, I am afraid, was not possible. The court found us in breach of the European convention on human rights and we cannot pick and choose the judgments with which we comply.

If we accept that position, the Bill is the best that we can achieve in the circumstances. Other solutions—the enforced abolition of corporal punishment or a dual system of schools, some with and some without corporal punishment—have major drawbacks. Of course, I reject completely the accusations of impracticability and unfairness.

There will be differences in the way in which pupils are treated, but there are now. Adjacent schools may have different policies, and pupils in the same school are often treated differently. Sometimes girls are exempted from corporal punishment while boys are not. Sometimes those with emotional problems are exempted, as may be delicate pupils. Fairness does not always entail identical treatment. What matters is that those who deserve punishment should receive it and that those who cannot be corporally punished should, and must, be disciplined in some other way.

My view is that the critics of the Bill have, as usual, over-reacted. An exemption scheme can work and can be consistent with the maintenance of good order and discipline in schools. It is therefore with pleasure that I commend the Bill to the House. I am delighted that the measure has reached this stage, and I hope that it will receive an unopposed Third Reading.

7.47 pm

I was amazed to hear the Minister say that he had pleasure in commending the Bill to the House. I should have thought that most people would agree that we were close to a farce with this piece of legislation. I pointed out on Second Reading that the Government were on a hiding to nothing with it and I have heard nothing since then which should give the Government confidence in the Bill.

I notice that between Second Reading and now the Secretary of State has seen fit to distance himself from the measure. I do not blame him for not being here today. I would not want to be putting forward a measure as farcical as this. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman does not want to be known as "abolition Joseph." Presumably, however, he is happy for it to be known as "abolition Dunn's Bill." In practice, it will turn out to be so impractical and unfair that corporal punishment will be abolished in the vast majority of schools and will be retained only by the bad and inefficient ones.

I was surprised to hear the Minister say that we had to do it because of the judgment of the court but that it would not be done until 1986. If we must take this step, the Government should have taken it earlier. My real regret, however, is that the Government have missed a great opportunity for there to have been a proper debate of the whole question of discipline in schools. We should be getting across to youngsters the need for self-discipline. We should not be running the education system on the basis that we must force pupils to do things. We should be aiming at getting pupils to do things because they want to do so. Our aim should be self-discipline for pupils. The schools should discuss carefully their regimes and methods of teaching in trying to arrive at the ideal of imposing the majority of discipline in schools through self-discipline rather than by means of a punishment system.

The Bill will not work as the Government intend and they will have to return quickly with another measure. If they do not another Government, a Labour Government, will have to bring in a simple abolition Bill and thereby remove the farcical measure which the Government are insisting on pushing through.

7.50 pm

I cannot say that I welcome the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, it will place our schools in a difficult position. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is entitled to say that he welcomes the Bill on the basis that it is the best measure that can be put before the House in all the circumstances, which make it impossible to give the schools a clear direction. The Bill cannot be welcomed as a measure that will improve school discipline and education. However, it is important that we have avoided the abolition of corporal punishment. It would be wrong to abolish it without a great deal more thought than any of the abolitionists have given to the issue. I include in that comment the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench, the Labour party generally and many outside. It is unfortunate that the abolitionists have not considered the options that would face us if abolition were to become a reality.

It is unfortunate also that the options have not been thought through for the child whose parents have said that they will not accept corporal punishment. The options have not been argued out in schools or in the education world generally. The schools will face a difficult task in handling pupils who will need to be punished as a result of bad behaviour and who may not be punished with the cane or an equivalent instrument because their parents have refused permission.

The Bill, as amended, will unquestionably affect school discipline at a time when our schools have a greater than ever responsibility for improving national behaviour in the long term. There is no doubt in my mind that much of the violence that we have seen at soccer matches, for example, will not disappear or be lessened as a result of the Bill. That is greatly to be regretted.

A Bill that will deal successfully with corporal punishment and any other form of school discipline should be welcomed as the basis for long-term improvement in school discipline and the means of real reform. The aim of such a measure should be to ensure that children are more interested on leaving school in remaining self-disciplined and law-abiding. Unfortunately, the Bill will not help in that direction. I am not saying that it will do deep harm but it will be responsible for some damage. I am sure that that cannot be denied.

Will the Bill help to end soccer violence and burglaries, for example? Will it help teachers to restrain the child who is behaving in a maladjusted fashion although he is not basically maladjusted? Will it help parents to feel that the school has the equipment to handle their children in all moods and in meeting all their behavioural problems? I am not sure that it will be capable of meeting any of those needs. The behaviour of children stems partly from their own character and personality and partly from peer group pressure and their relationships with one another. I believe that the Bill will make life more difficult for teachers, schools and children. Children who commit identical offences are likely to be punished differently in some circumstances. That will create impossible inequalities within schools. That is my basic objection to the Bill, which I expressed on Second Reading, and the amendments have not remedied this major defect.

It is good that parents will have a say by law in the discipline of their children. They have not had that right before and this feature of the Bill is one that should be welcomed. There will be a requirement to consult parents on their attitude towards corporal punishment. Hitherto, the law has not required parents to be consulted on their attitude to anything very much in the schooling of their children. The Bill offers this considerable plus and my hon. Friend the Minister was right to welcome the improvement. However, it is a pity that the law of the land is to be involved in school discipline. Currently, local authorities, schools and head teachers have had sole responsibility, with teachers, for the maintenance of school discipline. It has been accepted nationally that teachers should act in loco parentis. That role will be substantially altered when the Bill is enacted. That is a matter for regret when it is set against the strong tradition of the teacher acting to the best of his ability in loco parentis. It is a tradition which has stood the country, the education system and parents in good stead over a long period.

It is unfortunate that the Bill will mean that equal misdemeanours may attract different punishments. The unfairness of the inequality of treatment will undoubtedly irritate children seriously and gravely. Delicate children, maladjusted children and ordinary children with no behavioural problems have not been treated equally throughout the school system since 1872. Those with education difficulties and special needs have, when punished been treated differently from those with no difficulties.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State gave the impression that he welcomed the fact that children with education difficulties and those with no difficulties will be treated equally when the Bill is enacted. If the Bill is to have that effect, it should not be welcomed. It is obvious that delicate children are different from robust children. Maladjusted children are clearly different from those who are not. The children in these and other categories should be handled differently and punished in different ways. I hope that I have not misrepresented my hon. Friend. If I have, perhaps he will take up the matter when he replies. This is a fundamental issue and it would not be responsible for me, with such long experience in education, to let the matter pass without taking it up.

I hope that the Bill will not be the thin end of the wedge. Corporal punishment is valuable and should remain. School discipline should aim towards self-discipline for children both at school and afterwards. Self-discipline occurs as a result of a firm structure at school and at home at crucial ages in a child's life. If the Bill ensures that there is a firm structure of discipline that all people concede is fair, children may want to behave in a self-disciplined manner.

I do not welcome an attack on the position of the teacher, and especially the head, acting in loco parentis. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on his skill in handling this measure, but I hope that he will say that the line has been drawn and that we will go no further in attacking the principle of the teacher and especially the head acting in loco parentis. I hope that the people will understand what is being done and that matters will work out satisfactorily. I hope that it will turn out all right in the end. My fingers will be firmly crossed.

8.2 pm

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who, like me, is a former teacher, has put his finger on the obvious flaws in the Bill. Conservative Members do not believe in what they have been saying. They know that, in time, they will have to abolish corporal punishment, but the idea sticks in their craws. They have built a house of cards that will collapse.

The legislation places schools in difficulty. Schools already have registers, but they will have to place parents, teachers and children in extreme difficulty because registers of those who will be caned and those who will not be caned must be formed. Those entries will follow the students throughout their education at school. Practically every word spoken by Conservative Members proves that they know that this is impossible. Anyone who stands over a child with a cane is in a bankrupt position. Teachers with canes in their hands stand not in loco parentis but in "loco draconis". They are trying to terrify children and are thereby closing the channels of learning. It is utter nonsense to think that caning does the slightest good. Any teacher knows that the same children are caned all the time. It is claptrap to think that a child who is caned will never act wrongly again.

Reference has been made to sin bins and withdrawal places. Almost all the children who have gone into the withdrawal places after doing something wrong have been caned previously, probably scores of times. It is untrue to say that only a little caning occurs, because Britain is one of the last countries where children are caned.

Caning means that teachers are placed on a stage with children, some of whom are very young. The Bill gives a young male teacher the right to cane a woman who is almost 18 years old. That is so silly it is unbelievable. If Conservatives examined this matter properly, they would know that it is silly.

Corporal punishment in schools is unworkable. It is the worst of both worlds. It is not a last resort. The teacher who canes often uses caning as a first resort. Sometimes every child in a class is caned, with a small group being caned frequently. It is nonsense to say that caning is not carried out on a large scale. It must be done away with.

Our society is pregnant with violence because of the inequality and alienation of young people. We shall soon have to discuss discipline in schools because it is linked directly with what has happened at Luton, Millwall and so on. Violence occurs because a large number of young people are not working. Conservatives say that we have the best system on earth, but they do not know how to work it.

As soon as corporal punishment is abolished in schools where there has been violence, violence against teaching staff decreases. In schools where there is much caning, there is often violence against the staff.

The Government do not know what to do, so they have proposed this monstrous and nasty little Bill as a halfway house. It is not a halfway house but a 99.9 per cent. way house. The legislation will not work. Teachers and parents will demand its repeal and will wonder why a reputedly intelligent and adult people have proposed such an abortion. That is exactly what this nasty little Bill is, and, in time, we shall get rid of it.

8.7 pm

I am one of those who think that this is an appalling Bill. I should appreciate hearing the views of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on a number of points. I apologise for not having been present earlier. I had a constituency engagement and understood that we would not be debating the Bill until 10 pm. Obviously, my colleagues made splendid progress with the earlier legislation.

I believe that everyone is fully aware that education authorities are under enormous financial pressure. Under the Bill, notification must be given to parents. It is suggested that costs will be limited because schools are already in touch regularly with children. I assure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that none of my three children receives notification from the schools at any time by post. We certainly received notification by post when the children were entered at school, but since then we have received no postal communications. We receive many small letters which are handed to the children to bring home. Will it be possible under this legislation to hand out forms to children to bring them home to their parents? I doubt whether that is contemplated in the regulations. Postal notification is required.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State must accept that sending a letter to every parent in every maintained school in England and Wales will cost a great deal. How much will it cost? Is that a fair burden to impose on the education authorities which are starved of cash, for reasons that are obvious to us all?

How often will the schools have to send the notification? Is it once per year or once in the lifetime of the child in the school? If it is to be sent regularly, I suggest that the cost will be substantial. We are all aware that because of the way our society has developed, unfortunately, many children come from one-parent homes. Many children are living with their mothers, or fathers or a strange combination of people who are not their mothers and fathers. We know that nowadays there are many broken homes and that many children live in unstable relationships. Is there an obligation to send a postal notification to each of the natural parents? If there is, the work load will be substantial and the cost horrific. Will it mean that all the children or their parents will have to notify the school of the names and addresses of their natural parents? Will the schools have to take that information from all parents?

Those are some points about which my hon. Friend has a duty to tell the House and the education authorities. Will there have to be a postal notification? Does the Minister accept that schools do not send letters by post to parents at present? Will the notification have to be made annually or once only in the child's school life? Will the notification have to be sent to each of the natural parents? Will that mean that the schools keeping a note of the natural parents?

Clause 1(7) relates to assisted places. Will my hon. Friend say what happens about these?

Does that mean that independent schools have an obligation to send letters to natural parents?

My next point, which is important, is about the general principle of deterrence. Has there been any information on that, because our only experience of the operation of the European court on corporal punishment is the court's decision on corporal punishment for criminals in the Isle of Man. Before we proceed further with the legislation, my hon. Friend should attempt to read the annual reports of the chief constable of the Isle of Man from 1979 when corporal punishment had to abolished. He will see that there is a clear connection between crime and the abolition of corporal punishment.

My next point has been dealt with on Second Reading and in Committee. It relates to justice. I do not see that it be just, fair and reasonable for children engaged in the same exercise to be punished differently.

There is a further important point. Does my hon. Friend believe that the Bill will lead to an expansion of what is already a serious problem in schools—the increase in the number of children suspended or excluded from schools? I had a visit on Saturday from a constituent whose child, aged 14, was suspended from school in November 1984 and expelled at the end of the month. That child has had no education since from school or private tuition. He has been at home.

There is a danger that if we proceed with this legislation there will be a substantial increase in the number of pupils suspended or expelled because of the absence of corporal punishment. There will be a number of children staying at home and not receiving education.

The most vital issue is that this unsatisfactory Bill—the Government accept that it is unsatisfactory — is introduced not because of a decision of this Parliament, or the determination of pupils, parents or teachers, but merely because of the European court's decision. I take the view, as I am sure most people do, that parents and teachers are in a far better position than elderly European judges to make decisions about the conduct of discipline in our schools. I should prefer it if judges were given the opportunity to look after a class of 14-year-olds before they issued such ridiculous judgments.

When the European convention was drawn up it was detennined—this is clear from the reading of it—that it was interested in the protection of basic human rights against torture and so on. As with all written constitutions, the court has endeavoured, step by step, to extend the convention's remit. The court has extended it more and more. I should be happier if, instead of proceeding with the legislation, the Government were to call together the signatories of the European convention to see whether there were some way to stop the court extending its powers into matters for which the convention was not designed.

I am convinced that if the legislation goes through it will lead inevitably and quickly to the disappearance of corporal punishment from all except the independent schools. That will be a retrograde step. To bring in the Bill without clear help and advice to teachers about how alternative and satisfactory discipline can be introduced is dangerous when teaching morale, as we are all aware, is low. A number of teachers find great difficulty in coping with all that they have to at present.

The Bill is a big mistake. I should prefer it to be scrapped and for the Government to meet the signatories of the European convention to see whether there is some way in which we could get together to limit the appalling way that the European court is, step by step, taking more power from what was originally designed to be a limited document.

If anything good comes out of the legislation, it will be that the people of Great Britain will be reminded of the extent to which decision making has been taken away from us and transferred to a number of European courts that make foolish decisions which cause a great deal of damage to our country and, in this case, to our education.

8.17 pm

There are some ways in which I agree with the sentiments of the hon. Members for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I regret that we have the Bill and that we did not leave things as they were. I regret the fact that the court in Strasbourg did not concentrate on the more serious aspect of human rights instead of playing about with minor corporal punishment. I regret the fact that we did not take the opportunity to stop corporal punishment altogether. I regret the Government's approach which is pock-marked with ambiguities and is designed not to promote discipline in schools but to discipline their Back Benchers. I regret the fact that the Minister speaks of partnership. He seems genuinely to believe that signing a piece of paper is a manifestation of partnership.

The White Paper "Better Schools" has a section on discipline which makes more sense than what we have heard from the Minister and the Secretary of State. It states:
"Many schools consistently secure good order. They do so not simply by a regime of sanctions and rewards but more broadly by creating within the school a tone which makes for constructively purposeful activity. They attempt to create positive attitudes towards good behaviour in all that they do. The teachers themselves set an example; and in their relationships with parents, pupils and each other seek to demonstrate as well as to encourage high standards of conduct, in the awareness that adult society does not always reflect and support those standards. Often the teachers' success is attributable to the consistency with which they encourage in their pupils good behaviour and the habit of self-discipline and not simply to a particular teaching style or set of rules."
It is really quite liberal of the White Paper to write of boredom as a factor contributing to bad discipline, but to think that corporal punishment has anything to do with this seems to me quite astonishing. This is what I mean by anachronisms and ambiguities.

It takes one aspect of discipline in isolation. The Department of Education and Science has taken no account of information on schools and areas which manage without corporal punishment. It has taken no account of factors like the participation of pupils, which David Hargreaves, the guru to the Inner London education authority and also the author of the influential report "Improving Secondary Schools", took to be a major factor in the absence of graffiti and violence in some London schools.

Corporal punishment does not equal discipline. The White Paper understands this, so why are we wasting our time on this Bill, which is a mere sideshow to the real issues of discipline and good order and helping to foster good pupils? We who are trying to curb a violent society cannot—certainly we should not—be going to these lengths to legalise and give a modicum of respectability to the infliction of physical abuse on children, though few of us are opposed to teachers acting, as they will, in loco parentis, provided that the other manifestations of parental care are observed. It is for this reason that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I think that this Bill is a complete irrelevance and has wasted the time of the House.

8.21 pm

I said on Second Reading that we could expect to hear arguments from the anti-European lobby. In fact, we did not hear those arguments. Tonight, however, we have heard some of those arguments, albeit at a late stage in the proceedings. I pointed out also at Second Reading that I believe this to be an expedient and dotty Bill. During Committee, Report and Third Reading that view has been enforced. It is an expedient and dotty Bill. However, I should like to end on a positive note.

I believe that the Bill is not really about heating children. It is about the social framework of our schools and communities. While listening to this debate and to points which have been raised on previous occasions I have been depressed by the fact that we have heard about the prejudices of the past concerning discipline. Hon. Members have said that during their childhood they would have preferred a short, sharp caning to being deprived of games or put in detention, which they believe would have been far more effective. In fact, they prove the case of the abolitionists.

However, we have also learned about the diversity of practice in our educational system, undoubtedly one of its greatest strengths. The diversity of the response of teachers, parents and governors is magnificent. Nevertheless, those hon. Members who attended independent schools should not assume that, 40 years later, attitudes to discipline are the same as they were when they attended school. Hon. Members and members of another place should be aware of the wind of change that has been blowing through the Headmasters Conference. Corporal punishment is a lively issue there. We are being asked to consider, as a matter of great responsibility on the part of parents, teachers and governors, the need to debate the social framework of our schools and communities. At last Parliament has begun to discuss the issue and take a lead. I hope that there will be more of an opportunity to discuss the issue in the future than there has been in the past.

8.24 pm

I am not sure whether my admiration for the Government in getting this measure debated in an empty House at this time of the night is as great as my regret that the Government have done so. The fact that this debate was to take place today was made known just before the House went into recess. Very few hon. Members were then aware of what would be happening tonight. When they were notified of what would be happening tonight they thought that it would be after 10 o'clock. This is a controversial measure. It is a measure which many hon. Members, certainly many Conservative Members, are fundamentally against. Many hon. Members would no doubt have liked to be here to debate the issue. It is evident that proceedings on the Bill will be completed before 10 o'clock. Therefore, many of my hon. Friends who were most concerend about this measure will be deprived — I mean that — of the opportunity—

Order. I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. This is the Third Reading, which means that we are discussing the contents of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get to it quickly.

My point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that many of my hon. Friends are deeply concerned about the contents of the Bill but as you know, and as the House know, they will no now have the opportunity to put forward their points.

They should have been here if they are so concerned.

The hon. Gentleman says that they should have been here if they are so concerned. My hon. Friends would have been here had they been able to be here. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that because of the way that business is brought forward in this House it is not always possible for hon. Members to change their plans at the last minute. We are told, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a human rights matter. If this country is to reach a decision on human rights, I believe that the House of Commons, whose Members are elected by their constituents to represent their views, is a far better place to decide the human rights of the people of Britain than a foreign court with foreign judges who know nothing about the customs—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is discussing something that is not in the Bill. He must address himself to the contents of the Bill.

With your forgiveness, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Bill has been imposed on the House of Commons because of a ruling by a European court. It is not brought forward by the free will of this Government or by the free will of this House. It has been imposed on us. That which is contained in the Bill is highly criticised by many of my hon. Friends. We are concerned with human rights and with the education of our children. Many of our children are suffering from a level of education to which we do not aspire because of the lack of discipline. I am not a strong advocate of corporal punishment. I am not a great flogger. However, it is said that in a civilised society such as ours there should be no corporal punishment. If we were a civilised society in all the respects that are envisaged that might be true, but sadly that is not the case. In many of the blackboard jungles of our inner city areas the staff face great problems in imposing discipline and believe that there is a need for corporal punishment. We are taking corporal punishment away from them because of the ruling of a foreign court. By taking away corporal punishment we are reducing the educational opportunities of many of our most disadvantaged children. If we are concerned about civil liberties and human rights, we ought to be concerned about the human rights of those children.

As for the assisted places scheme, there may already be five or 10 pupils in a school under the assisted places scheme whose parents have said that corporal punishment is the custom and practice in that school and that they accept it. However, what happens if another child gains an assisted place in that school and his parents say that they do not want corporal punishment to be inflicted on their child and the headmaster or the governors then say to those parents, "We are sorry, but there has been a mistake. If your child will not accept corporal punishment, we are afraid that he cannot come here."? We know what will happen. Public money is made available, and it will have to be withdrawn. If that public money is withdrawn, what will happen to the five or 10 children who are already in the school? Do they lose their assisted places? Is that what will happen? Will they be thrown out of the school because a newcomer is not prepared to accept corporal punishment?

If we are in favour of human rights, I put it to the House that the human rights of those children, the liberty of the individual, and the freedom of those children, are being interfered with to a far greater extent by the Bill than if we chucked it out. That is what I believe we should do.

8.31 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the points that have been made.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett).

The debate, the temperature of which has risen considerably in the last few moments, has been one of great vigour and determination. We have had many debates on several of the points that were raised tonight. I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that I had no part in the collapse of earlier business, which prevented him and other hon. Members on both sides of the House from being in their places. There may be those who are concerned about the Bill who have not arrived, and many great supporters of the Bill might have been unable to be present because of the collapse of business. Had I had the opportunity to choose whether to have the debate earlier or later, I would have preferred it to take place later so that I could canvass in my constituency for the Kent county council elections on 2 May. That had been my intention.

I have no anxieties whatsoever, but I am always concerned to keep out the forces of evil and destruction in the form of the Labour party, and, of course, the alliance. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman was born in Kent, I am surprised that he is on the Opposition Benches.

I was not going to suggest that it should be, either. Opposition Members have referred to the standard of behaviour in schools, which is important. The development of self-discipline—

Does the Minister accept that it is insufferable for the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) to come in and lecture us about discipline, when he cannot even stay to hear the Minister wind up?

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, who is now back again, told me that he might have to leave during my speech—not because of my speech, but because he had a prior engagement with constituents elsewhere. [HON. MEMBERS: "But he has come back."] Perhaps my hon. Friend has a bit more time than he thought he had. He informed me of that. I am sure that no discourtesy to the House was intended. I certainly did not take it as a discourtesy.

Self-discipline is a significant objective for many young people and for those who come into contact with them. Schools have traditionally accepted the part that they have to play in that development. If the Bill encourages schools to look again at the way in which they approach discipline —I believe it will—that will be a positive step forward. I hope that it will lead to a closer understanding between school and home, and encourage involvement and support by parents, which schools need in disciplinary matters.

The view has been expressed that the schools most affected by the Bill will be those in which the staff have relied heavily on corporal punishment. For them there may have to be a major shift in emphasis, and it may take a little time. However, many schools have demonstrated that changes can be made without any increase in disorder and disruption. As the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East said, other sanctions can be used. As our recent White Paper on better schools said, there is scope for schools to offer more opportunities for pupils to acquire the habit of self-discipline. Schools can do a great deal to encourage and reward high standards of conduct without becoming dependent on any single sanction, no matter how necessary it might be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to the damage that the Bill might do to the concept of in loco parentis. He knows from his vast experience in the education service over many years that the in loco parentis concept is broad, and is not undermined by the Bill. The concept underlies activities of all teachers in England and Wales. In Scotland the law is different, and teachers have similar vested powers. It means that, while the children are with the teacher, the teacher is responsible for their care and control. That places on teachers a wide legal obligation to look after them as a responsible parent would. More generally, teachers usually see their in loco parentis obligations as extending beyond the legal duties of care and control to a general concern with the personal and social development of pupils. Teachers do not simply offer lessons. They educate in the widest sense, and are much concerned with all aspects of behaviour. There is no reason why the Bill should disturb that approach to the teachers' functions.

My hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, North and for Southend, East referred to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. The House knows, because it was said so many times in Committee and earlier debates, that our obligations in that respect date back to 1951 when the Government of the day accepted the court's jurisdiction in cases brought by another state and where the prior agreement of this country had been obtained. In 1966, the then Government accepted the right of individuals to make complaints under the convention. That acceptance has been renewed by successive Governments. The latest renewal was in January 1981, for five years.

In the case of Campbell and Cosans the court ruled against the United Kingdom Government despite the views of the United Kingdom judge, Sir Vincent Evans. However, in other cases we have had cause to approve of its rulings. In the case of Handyside v. United Kingdom in 1976, for example, the court supported the decision of the authorities in this country who took action against an individual under the Obscene Publications Act 1964. Handyside had produced an underground book for schoolchildren, one long section of which was devoted to sexual matters. He subsequently brought a complaint against the United Kingdom under the convention. The court rejected the complaint. We all applaud that ruling.

In the closed shop case of Young, James and Webster v. United Kingdom, the court ruled in 1981 in favour of three British Rail employees who were dismissed as a result of a closed shop agreement. Opposition Members may not have liked the ruling, but it was important and, for me and my hon. Friends, it was a wholly satisfactory outcome. We should also remember that the Commission rejects many applications against the United Kingdom before they ever reach the court.

Does my hon. Friend accept, in fairness, that both those items, which admittedly are controversial, could have been resolved by legislation of the United Kingdom Parliament?

My hon. Friend may be right on that matter, but I must say what the position is and not what it might have been.

My hon. Friend raised several questions, which I shall now attempt to answer. He referred to the assisted places scheme. The same obligations will apply to those schools that partake in the assisted places scheme as will apply to maintained schools. My hon. Friend also referred to the number of pupils who might be suspended from school in future should the application of corporal punishment cease. It is sometimes argued that corporal punishment is a sanction of last resort and if it cannot be used, another more dramatic sanction must be found. It is also argued that suspension from school is such a sanction and will be the natural alternative.

There are weaknesses in both arguments. In the main, the cane is not a sanction of last resort. It is not reserved for the very worst offences. Mostly it is used as a quick response to an unacceptable though relatively minor offence. The alternative is not necessarily a draconian measure. It is more likely to be some other quick and simple punishment. One of the best alternatives is probably the withdrawal of rewards and privileges. In any case, suspension should not be a disciplinary sanction. It is not in itself a punishment. It is a temporary means of relieving pressure in schools and of involving parents. Pupils have to be got back in school, or in some extreme cases to a unit, at the earliest opportunity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East raised a number of questions about the mechanics of canvassing parental views. I am sure that my hon. Friend, like most good parents, periodically visits his children's schools to discuss the children's academic propensities and future. On such occasions parents can and will be given the necessary form. Parents of new pupils may be given the form when they visit the school for the first time. In the case of the many parents who, sadly, choose not to visit the school, the form will be sent by post.

The question of periodic renewal will not arise, as there will be one form to cover the pupil's period of attendance at the school—although parents will, of course, have the right to change their minds.

My hon. Friend also referred to broken homes and different types of parental influence. The form will always be sent to the child's home address. My hon. Friend has various ways of making his pressure felt and no doubt he will see me if he wants further elaboration.

My hon. Friend said that the form will be posted to the child's home address. Is he therefore saying that it will not necessarily be sent to the parents, although if they happen to live at that address that is well and good? It is very important that we should be clear about that.

The views to be canvassed are those of the people legally responsible for the child's welfare. I think that I have stated the position correctly, but I will look into the matter and if I feel that my answer was in any way misleading, I will write to my hon. Friend.

We have had a very good-tempered debate and I am delighted to have reached this stage of the Bill's progress. I thank hon. Members on both sides who have taken part in the debates both in the House and in Committee, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.