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Exemption From Corporal Punishment Not Ground For Suspension, Etc

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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'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.