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Lord Monson: I thank my noble friend for allowing me to intervene. The noble Baroness does not introduce any new principle. The amendment simply permits the continuation of what happens at the moment.
Lord Annan: I do not address the principle but the legal document before us by which these things will be possible. Is this punishment to be administered only by members of the staff or by the boys and girls themselves? Perhaps the only good thing that came out of the Public Schools Commission was its recommendation that the beating of boys by boys was something that schools should abolish. I am glad that many of them have done so. But under this amendment it is perfectly possible for a school to say that the prefects shall have power to beat the boys.
I remind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, of what happened to a near-contemporary of his, Lord Clark. When Kenneth Clark boarded the school train at Waterloo as a new boy, unaware of any of the Winchester "notions", i.e. the rules about how boys should behave towards one another, he chatted away to a lot of the other boys. When he arrived he was summoned by the head of his house and told--I use the Wykehamist phrase--to "sport an arse" and he was
In an amendment of this kind should we not make it perfectly clear who is entitled to administer corporal punishment to other pupils in the school? For example, referring to subsection (4), what form of corporal punishment does not involve inhuman and degrading treatment and contravene the pupil's convention rights? I should very much like to be enlightened on that point. Nearly all corporal punishment involves degrading treatment; indeed, that is one of its main purposes. I pose that question because I believe that in view of subsections (5)(d), (e) and (f) the court would be almost bound to conclude that the punishment was degrading.
There may be parents who still believe that to spare the rod spoils the child. In that respect I am very much on the side of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I believe that parental rights should not be invaded. If they want to flog and beat their children--of course within the law--they are entitled to do so. But when one is considering a school the state has a right to interfere and to lay down exactly what should and should not be done. This practice should not be legalised.
It is often said that it never did anyone any harm, but can one number the autobiographies written in the past 40 to 50 years that have made perfectly plain that such a practice caused harm? It is also responsible for a good deal of perverse conduct. Some years ago I recall going up Wellington Road and observing among the graffiti the statement "Bring back the birch!" Underneath it some willing suppliant had written "Please!" This kind of conduct is encouraged by the continuation of beating in schools. I have no wish to interfere with the right of anyone who gets pleasure from being whipped or whipping another, but there is no doubt that from the poet Swinburne onwards what stimulates this in the first place is corporal punishment.
Lord Beloff: As so often when the noble Lord, Lord Annan, intervenes in an education debate, I am confirmed in my belief that there is no island so remote from the generality as King's College Cambridge. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, points out, this amendment does not legalise anything but merely prevents something that has gone on for a long time from being made illegal.
I return to the more central point. I am one of those noble Lords--not many--who took part in the debate when the noble Baroness, Lady David, managed to persuade this House to abolish corporal punishment in state schools. I said at the time that the results would be disastrous, and so it has proved. We have seen endless assaults by young hooligans and pupils--it is now fashionable to refer to them as students--upon their teachers. We have seen them backed up by parents who have assaulted teachers. We have removed a protection from the teaching profession and have not substituted anything else. Whether the current leaders of the teachers' unions take a different view is another matter.
It goes further than that. We have seen a general reluctance in our society to check behaviour, however bad. One of the consequences of the success of the noble Baroness, Lady David, is the recent events in the streets of Marseilles. That is how the young English who have been freed from corporal punishment find it easy and profitable to behave. This is a fact.
We are told that corporal punishment does not happen in other countries. No doubt they have other forms of penalty. For instance, we have not devised appropriate penalties for parents who allow their children to play truant from school and when in school to obstruct the teaching of others. We have become a totally undisciplined society and it is beginning to make Britain look foolish in the eyes of the world. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady David, and even that absurd institution, the European Court of Human Rights, did not intend to bring that about, but they have done so. Although I believe that the question whether a few independent schools are or are not allowed to inflict corporal punishment is a relatively minor matter, the passing of this amendment will show that at least some Members of this House know what is going on and regret it.
Baroness David: I should like to make one response in regard to football hooligans. The fact is that in no other country in Europe is corporal punishment allowed in schools. They have had some trouble on the cricket pitches and in other places.
Lord Hardy of Wath: I do not wish to detain the Committee long, but it may be appropriate for me to make a few observations based on my long experience as a schoolmaster rather a long time ago. The boys I taught did not frequently go to Oxford or Cambridge. They attended schools which sometimes presented the teachers with severe challenges.
As the years passed, my experience of 17 years in education in a mining area led me to become less and less enthusiastic or supportive of the case for corporal punishment. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has given examples of the sheer impracticality which surrounds the amendment. The noble Lord referred to the situation where two boys commit an offence and the parents of one say, "Yes, cane him", and the parents of the other say, "You cannot cane my son". Do you cane one and not the other?
Even worse, if a boy commits an offence at school and is caned, and another boy commits a similar offence the following week and his parents object to caning, is that boy caned? What does the Committee think will happen to relationships in schools if some boys are caned for one offence and others are not caned for committing a similar offence? What will be the relationship between boy and teacher, or boy and boy? It will be impossible to operate a school in an effective and fair manner without experiencing a quite corrosive effect on relationships.
I share the distaste, horror and abhorrence of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for the events in Marseilles. Perhaps we need more order in our society. It is a pity that the noble Lord did not offer those examples to the
One has to be practical about the law and the requirements of discipline. But we shall not beat children into good behaviour. We have to apply common sense; and I do not see much common sense in the amendments.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I have listened carefully to all the speeches. I do not understand any noble Lord to be arguing that it is in the nature of liberalism or libertarianism that children should be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by teachers in state or private schools. All Members of the Committee seem to agree that the universal human right proclaimed 50 years ago in the universal declaration, in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and subsequently defined in all the international human rights codes--that there should be no inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment--is one with which every Member of this House would agree.
The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, asked how it is the business of this House (or of another place, I suppose he would argue) to impose standards in the circumstances of the amendment. I shall try to answer him.
I have only two qualifications for making this speech. First, I inflicted corporal punishment as a prefect in a boys' school in front of a group of other prefects. I did so only once. It degraded me; it degraded the pupil; and it convinced me that corporal punishment is inherently degrading. But I would not seek to inflict that view on the population at large for obvious libertarian reasons, if that were all.
My only other qualification is that I argued one of the first corporal punishment cases. I should like briefly to recall what it was about. It answers the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who argued that the common law perfectly protects pupils in this country against inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. At least, I think that that is what he submitted, among other things.
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