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Lord Henderson of Brompton: Is the noble Baroness speaking for the Official Opposition? She speaks from the Opposition Front Bench. It would be nice to know whether or not she is speaking for the Opposition and, indeed, whether a free vote will be allowed on all Benches, especially the Benches of the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch: I can confirm that there will be a totally free vote in relation to these Benches. I can add

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that, when the subject came up in this Chamber, as an official government party we supported, as long as it was within reasonable bounds and conformed to the European Convention on Human Rights, corporal punishment as a good thing in schools. For the purposes of this amendment, the vote will be a free vote.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: The noble Baroness was speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. Is what she said Official Opposition policy?

Baroness Blatch: I was speaking to the amendment in a personal capacity. I have made it clear that when the subject came up when we were on the Government Benches we certainly supported that. Nevertheless, at that time there was a free vote and some noble Lords on our Benches took a contrary view. We believe that this is a subject for a free vote, and there will indeed be a free vote on the subject this evening.

Baroness David: If there is to be a free vote on the Opposition side of the Committee, I find it strange that the noble Baroness did not make that clear when she started to speak from her position as the Opposition's official spokesman for education.

When this amendment was put into the Bill in another place, there was a free vote on all sides of the House. The Government won by a substantial majority on a free vote--by 211 to 15. We now understand that there is to be a free vote. I am delighted to hear that. We are certainly having a free vote on this side of the Committee.

The aim of the clause is to extend the abolition of corporal punishment to cover all pupils in private schools and also those in nursery education. Its purpose is to close a sordid and embarrassing chapter in the history of our education system and to end the form of discrimination which has allowed some schools to go on beating some pupils whose parents were paying fees but not others where the state was paying the fees. These amendments are wrecking amendments intended to remove the clause altogether or to keep corporal punishment for some schools and for some pupils in the private sector. I do not know how many Members of the Committee remember Sir Keith Joseph's Bill in the Session 1984-85 which proposed in the state sector that if parents chose they could have their children beaten but that parents could choose not to. That Bill was voted out of the House at Report stage and had to be withdrawn by the then government.

Baroness Blatch: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She referred to this as a wrecking amendment. This clause was not in the Bill when the Bill was published in another place. In fact the clause was added to the Bill not by the Government, but with the support of the Government, by a Liberal Democrat Member in another place. Therefore, in the sense that we are just taking a different view about that clause, it is not a wrecking amendment.

Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may clarify something. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will

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confuse everyone if she continues in this vein. A decision was made in another place not by the Government but by Parliament. The Government did not support this amendment. Members of the Government took a personal position on it and decided to vote in favour of the amendment, but that is quite different from saying that this is in any way a government amendment. The noble Baroness referred a little earlier to the state imposing certain constraints in relation to corporal punishment. That, again, is inaccurate. This is a decision of Parliament, which wishes to see this practice come to an end. Perhaps I may also confirm what my noble friend Lady David said. The Government believe that there should be a free vote on this important issue.

Baroness Young: Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she clarify one point? She said twice that this is a decision of Parliament. It is in fact a decision of the House of Commons. There is a distinction.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It is of course a decision of the House of Commons--of another place.

Baroness Blatch: I would have made the same point. But perhaps I may also add that I did not say that it was a government amendment. I rose to make that very point. I rose to say that it would have been a wrecking amendment had it been a government amendment. It was actually an amendment of a member of another party in another place which received the support of the majority of the House of Commons. Many on the Government Benches supported the amendment. I have looked down the list. But it is not a government amendment. It was not put as a government amendment and it was not spoken to as a government amendment.

Baroness Blackstone: When the noble Baroness reads Hansard, she will see that just two or three minutes ago she said that the amendment had the support of the Government. That is not accurate. It did have the support of individual members of the Government who voted in favour of it, but that is a completely different matter.

Baroness David: Perhaps I may now get on with what I was saying. On several occasions in the past this House has taken the initiative to rid our school system of this abhorrent, anti-education and dangerous practice. I have had a great deal to do with getting as far as we have in this House. I have supported all the Bills and was the opposition spokesman on some of those Bills when we won amendments which sought to abolish corporal punishment in the state system.

The private schools associations want abolition. That is an important point. On 5th March, Ian Beer, who is the chairman of the Independent Schools Council, issued a statement in which he said that the independent schools welcome the proposal to ban all corporate punishment. The statement said that many private

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schools had concluded long before any form of legal ban was contemplated that,

    "corporal punishment impeded good education".

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about parents sending their children to independent schools. If parents want to send their children to independent schools, they are quite free to do so. But if they send their children to an independent school which has banned corporal punishment, that is settled. That is the policy of the school and they can either send their children to it or not.

The teachers want abolition. Full prohibition is supported by all the teacher unions, by the other education organisations and, of course, by all child welfare and child protection groups. In particular, effective child protection demands full abolition. The national committee of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and Sir William Utting's recent review of safeguards for all looked-after children--children in care--including those in boarding schools, also strongly recommended full prohibition.

Our obligations under international human rights law demand full abolition. Three United Nations human rights treaty bodies--the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child--had formally recommended that the Government should extend prohibition to cover all pupils. Each committee expressed concern at the continued legality of corporal punishment for some pupils.

The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, attempts to define--

Lord Skidelsky: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Why does she believe that her views and the views of other people, which are worthy of the greatest respect, should be imposed on the population of this country?

Baroness David: I do not know whether the noble Lord is referring to the European rights committees.

Lord Skidelsky: I am referring to the noble Baroness's personal views, which she has expressed most eloquently.

Baroness David: I believe that corporal punishment is a bad thing in all our schools. I am hoping to persuade noble Lords that this clause should remain part of the Bill and help to abolish corporal punishment in our schools and in our nursery schools.

In its most recent judgment on this issue, the European Court of Human Rights stated unanimously that it did not wish to be taken to approve in any way the retention of corporal punishment as part of the disciplinary regime for schools. The noble Baroness forgets our clear obligation to remove corporal punishment from our school system altogether under the other international human rights treaties. For years

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private schools in the UK have been the only educational institutions in Europe, east or west, in which corporal punishment of children has remained lawful.

I hope that the Committee will decisively reject the amendments and thus ensure at long last that our school system--the whole of our school system--is rid of this sordid practice. It was 35 years ago that Baroness Wootton of Abinger, whom we all admired enormously, sought to get this House to accept full abolition. She said then, "If a thing is wrong today it should be put right today and not tomorrow or the day after". It has taken a very long time to get as far as this, but I hope that today we shall clear that up.

By adopting this clause in another place by such a huge majority on a free vote, the Bill has achieved for what so many of us have pleaded for a long time. I hope that this Committee will show its strong support for this clause in the Bill. We have a free vote.

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