CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS – 25 March 1998

[c. 5am]

Dr Julian Lewis: One thing that has emerged clearly from the debate is that no argument that has been used tonight to outlaw modest physical punishment or restraint in schools could not be used to outlaw modest physical punishment or restraint in the home.

The hon. Member for Bath (Don Foster) gave the game away, although not willingly – it had to be dragged, if not beaten, out of him. In the course of his oration, I asked him whether, when he said that he regarded the use of physical punishment in schools as barbaric, he also regarded the use of physical punishment in the home as barbaric. Eventually he admitted that that is what he felt. That is the motivation behind the new clause.

Everyone seems to be agreed that physical punishment of an abusive nature is not going on in public schools, so why the urgency to legislate? The reason for the legislation is that it is an indirect way to set up a situation in which it would be logically inconsistent to say that a teacher may not exercise physical punishment or restraint on a child, but a parent can do precisely that in his own home.

Time and again in the contributions that we have heard on the other side of the argument, it is clear that like is not being compared with like. Our opponents speak of gross physical abuse in schools, but they say that the measure does not affect the right of parents to use modest chastisement. However, the new clause is framed in such a way that it will affect the right of teachers to use modest chastisement as well. It is not about physical abuse: it focuses on the right to slap a naughty child.

It is an insult to every parent who believes that it is right to slap his or her own child when it misbehaves to say that that cannot be done in a school. The entire basis for it to be done in a school is that the school is operating in loco parentis. By ruling out physical punishment for the teacher, the new clause is designed, intended and motivated to rule it out in the not too distant future for the parent as well.

Before I comment on an article in the Independent that has been mentioned, I shall deal with the difficulty of technical assault. If we rule out any sort of physical punishment for a child or physical restraint in a school, any teacher who so much as lays a finger on the child is liable to be had up for technical assault. Therefore, when people ask why one requires the ability to inflict modest physical restraint or chastisement on a child if that ability will not be used, one could answer: because one must have the ability to restrain a violent child without having the fear of being had up in court because of the provisions of this Bill.

Several remarks have been made in the debate about an article in today's Independent, which was supposedly "reporting" this debate before it had even been held. The hon. Member for Bath said that nothing that he or his colleagues had said in the article was meant to imply that their comments had already been made in the House. I should therefore like to read a few extracts from the Independent article, which I first read at 2.20 this morning – a full three hours before the debate on new clause 21 had even started – and to state for the record the prophetic skills of Mr Colin Brown, the Independent's chief political correspondent.

Before the event, Mr Brown "reported":

"A Liberal Democrat MP last night spoke of his 'shame' at caning children as MPs voted to sweep away the last vestiges of corporal punishment in independent schools" –

[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Labour Members say, "Hear, hear," but they have not done it yet. Although they will perhaps do it, even people as craven and predictable as they are might have a tinge of resentment at the Independent saying that they had done it before they had even got off their backsides.

 

The "report" continues:

"Former secondary school teacher, Phil Willis, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said: 'Whenever I caned a child, I felt demeaned by it. Quite frankly, I felt quite ashamed later in life to feel that for many years I supported the use of corporal punishment.' . . .

MPs were given a free vote by the Government to extend the ban in the independent schools during the final Commons stages of the School Standards Bill. ... Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, challenged Tory backwoodsmen who defended" – [Interruption.] Yes; but we have not done it yet. The hon. Member for Bath "challenged Tory backwoodsmen who defended 'spanking' " – a word that I do not think has yet been used by any hon. Member on either side of the House – [Hon. Members: "You did."] – but that is not to say that we will not use it.

 

The "report" states that the hon. Member for Bath challenged those who

"defended 'spanking' on the grounds that it did children no harm. 'How do they know?', he said. 'I have been caned. It did me harm.' "

With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is a case of what educationists would call post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Merely because something has done him obvious harm – particularly to his logical faculties – one should not assume that it was caning.

 

The article continues:

"Mr Willis said there was a need to use a degree of force, sometimes to protect pupils, but caning was an admission of failure in discipline in schools. The ban will" –

it will –

"also stop punishment with a slipper or a ruler. It will still allow parents to smack their children, and smacking by child minders with the approval of parents."

The "report" deserves to be put up with those other headlines of events before they have happened, such as the Hindenburg's safe landing and Dewey's defeat of Truman in the United States presidential election. Sadly, the report may be borne out in the event, but not for the right reasons.

 

It has been a pleasure to have the opportunity – albeit this early in the subsequent morning – to fulfil a promise to my constituents that, if there were a free vote on this issue, I would vote against the new clause. I shall vote against it. Moreover, I know that a majority of public opinion and of parents who believe that they should have the right modestly to chastise their own children would vote against it if they had the chance. It is only sad that the serried ranks of politically correct nannies on the Labour Benches will not give them that opportunity.