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Restriction On Corporal Punishment Of Pupils

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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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.]