UK school corporal punishment ban argued in the House of Commons, March 25, 1998
Excerpt from Hansard (House of Commons Daily Debates)
Mr. Foster: New clause 21 would remove corporal punishment from independent schools. I move it in the certain knowledge that it will receive significant support in the House--I know that because I read it in today's The Independent, which tells us in advance of our deliberations that the House has swept away the last vestiges of caning. It is not enough to rely on The Independent, however, so I shall make the case briefly in the hope that hon. Members will support the new clause.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Do the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues make a habit of issuing press releases before events in this manner?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman should know that it is certainly our practice to issue press releases saying what we hope to achieve in the House. Indeed, The Independent carries reports of what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and I said about the issue at a press conference at 10.30 am--we made no attempt to imply that those comments were made later. Perhaps it will speed up the debate if I briefly describe what we said.

This debate gives us the opportunity to complete what I believe, and I am sure the House will believe, to be unfinished business. [Interruption.] Well, I hope that some hon. Members will believe it to be unfinished business. In 1948, birching as a judicial punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom. In 1957, flogging was abolished in the Navy. In 1967, corporal punishment in prisons and borstals was abolished. That was an important year, because it was in that year that the Plowden report, "Children and their Primary Schools", recommended the abolition of corporal punishment in both state and independent schools. The report stated:

"We believe that the kind of relationship which ought to exist between teacher and child cannot be built up in an atmosphere in which the infliction of physical pain is regarded as a normal sanction."
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the new clause draws a distinction between the ritualised flogging that both he and I want outlawed and the teacher who slaps a child? [Interruption.] Obviously, that concept excites some ribaldry among Labour Members, but some parents who are completely against ritualised beating would be concerned if a teacher could not lightly slap a child. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify that matter?

Mr. Foster: I will clarify it, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice that he would raise the issue. I believe that the Secretary of State was right when, about two weeks ago, he introduced guidance to teachers that made it very clear that they could reasonably use a physical approach if it prevented children who were fighting from harming one another. I believe that teachers needed that reassurance. Anything beyond that is, in my view, unacceptable and the new clause would not make the distinction to which the hon. Member refers.

It is my clear view that corporal punishment is wrong in principle: it is barbaric and inhuman. It is also wrong in practice, because there is no evidence whatever that it is an effective deterrent either for the child who may have been misbehaving or for other children.

The Elton committee, which studied the matter in considerable detail in 1989, said:

"there is little evidence that Corporal Punishment was in general an effective deterrent either to the pupils punished or to other pupils."
I do not believe that the use of corporal punishment in schools can help to develop good educational practice.

I hope that the House is aware that although the vast majority--80 per cent.--of independent schools have the legal right to use corporal punishment, they have already decided voluntarily to abolish it. The Independent Schools Council said:

"Many schools concluded long before any form of legal ban was contemplated that corporal punishment impeded good education."
I estimate that no more than 200 independent schools continue to use corporal punishment, but I believe that the House should act to ensure that schools are legally obliged to cease its use forthwith.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The hon. Gentleman said that it is barbaric to use corporal punishment in schools. If it is barbaric for a teacher to slap an unruly child, is it also, in his opinion, barbaric for a parent to do the same?

Mr. Foster: My personal view is that corporal punishment by a parent is wrong, but the new clause does not in any way infringe the rights of individual parents to inflict such punishment.

Dr. Lewis rose--

Mr. Foster: I am still answering the hon. Gentleman's first point. My personal view is that corporal punishment by a parent is indeed barbaric. It is for other hon. Members to decide their view on the matter. The new clause does not deal with that point, nor was it intended to.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: No, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to contribute.

As I said at the beginning, this is an opportunity for the House to complete some unfinished business. Were we to pass this new clause or new clause 23, we would bring this country into line with all other European countries, both east and west. Surely it must be of interest to the House that not one other European country allows corporal punishment in any of its schools. I hope that by the end of tonight this country will have signalled its intention of joining that sensible decision taken by all other European countries.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): I shall address my relatively brief remarks to new clause 23. We are drawing to the close of a very long debate and we are also drawing to a close the practice of corporal punishment in our schools and educational establishments.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on raising this important issue on the Floor of the House. I entirely agree with his aims and hope that he and his hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches will agree that, as well as removing the right to corporal punishment, new clause 23 would protect teachers who in the course of their duties may be accused of administering corporal punishment when they are attempting to protect children. In the light of that, I hope that Liberal Democrat Members will consider supporting new clause 23. We have had to be patient tonight. It has been a long debate and I want to keep my comments as brief as possible. In that vein, I do not intend to take interventions.

I have seen no evidence to show that corporal punishment enhances teaching or learning, that it enhances a child's life chances or makes a child a better citizen, or to show that a classroom cannot be controlled without the threat or the use of violence.

Relatively few schools still indulge in this outdated practice--a practice that has been outlawed throughout the rest of Europe and abandoned by Eton. I am sure that many of the old Etonians in this place will confirm that Eton is not renowned for its lax discipline. Other disciplinary measures are available that are more appropriate in a modern school setting and which allow children the opportunity to learn how to deal with conflicts.

The report, "Childhood Matters", by the national commission of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse, chaired by Lord Williams of Mostyn, states:

"The general decline in the permitted use of sanctions in this form, for example in publicly maintained schools and nurseries, is to be welcomed. Alternative ways of ensuring acceptable standards should be explored and promoted".
Evidence shows that children in schools that indulge in corporal punishment are either frightened by the experience, which is not conducive to good education, or resentful and rebellious, which is not good for discipline. One boy in my old school was beaten daily and became the school hero as a result. Other boys sought to emulate his behaviour. Canings had the opposite effect to that intended.

Physically abused children often have problems in life. Many prisoners were beaten in school. Evidence shows that people who use violence to settle disputes have experienced violence themselves. In the interests of discipline, we merely conserve the conditions in which violence can thrive. Some hon. Members invoke the in loco parentis argument to support their case that parents can choose corporal punishment, but it is not right to delegate that choice to another adult. Teachers do not want that right and their trade unions do not want it; they welcome prohibition.

Lord Williams of Mostyn felt that parents and those acting on their behalf as parents had no more right to use physical punishment on children. The commission that he chaired felt that children should have the same right of protection as adults and said that the ban on the use of corporal punishment in publicly maintained schools should be extended to independent schools and nurseries.

The Independent Schools Joint Council supports the end of corporal punishment. It represents 80 per cent. of children in the private sector and supports a ban because that is what parents want. In one school, parents withdrew their children because they discovered that children were being physically punished. They did not know that their children were being beaten; when they found out that they had had their choice taken away, they withdrew their children.

The Utting report on children and violence found that children need protection when living away from home. It said that reasonable chastisement should not constitute a defence for physical abuse of children. It also said that the most effective way of discouraging violence against children is to make it plain that none is acceptable. Children should be defended against punitive treatment.

Schools need to develop disciplinary measures. I see no reason why that cannot involve the withdrawal of treats, detention, performing useful tasks and extra home work. With older children, peer group councils have been especially useful with bullies and other disruptive behaviour. It is a far better form of discipline than corporal punishment. If hon. Members accept the amendment, it will end a discredited, outdated and ineffective practice and bring us into line with the rest of modern Europe.

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