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Short Title, Commencement And Extent

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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.