Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am sure I must be right about this but in his argument about liberty, the noble Lord is not arguing, is he, that liberty justifies infringement of basic human rights and freedoms, including the ill treatment of children even by their own parents, any more than it justifies, for example, slavery or racial discrimination? He is not an absolutist about liberty. Does he then accept that if the international human rights codes forbid a certain level of punishment as being inhuman or degrading it is our obligation to make sure that we protect our children from the possibility that their basic rights will be infringed by institutions, whether state or independent, when those children are at school?

Lord Skidelsky: I believe that we have a right to make up our own minds as to what constitutes barbarous and inhuman treatment. No one is arguing on this side of the Committee that any kind of physical violence by parents or schools against children is justified. We are arguing for forms of punishment within the law. I do

16 Jun 1998 : Column 1499

not believe that corporal punishment administered in the kind of environment specified in the amendment constitutes a violation of children's rights.

I conclude by saying that if Members of the Committee opposite believe in liberty, they should have no difficulty in accepting the amendment. It does not introduce any new principles or laws. It simply safeguards a liberty which exists. I do not believe that corporal punishment will have a long and glorious future. Most people already do not believe in it very much. I believe that it has its uses under exceptional and special circumstances and that the right to it should be retained.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I cannot support the amendment but I see difficulties and understand some of the thinking that prompted it. First, I am afraid that I warmly support the spanking of children by their parents, particularly when they are small. Very often, a spank and a kiss solves everything whereas cold-hearted treatment and reasoning leaves a much greater mark on a child. It is much better to administer a brisk spank and then to make up and say sorry. I believe in that, but I do not support what the amendment proposes to retain. However, I acknowledge the major difficulty raised by my noble friend Lord Beloff. I do not yet see what will be done to enable teachers to keep order now that they have lost a rather simple remedy when dealing with violent children.

I know an excellent Somerville graduate who became a teacher. She was the daughter of teachers and the only thing she wanted to do was to teach. She achieved a first in physics and I rejoiced to think that a good scientist would be teaching in our schools. After six years and three schools she gave up, because, as she told me, in each school she had encountered one hard core of children in a class--sometimes there could be more--who were not only determined not to learn but who were also determined to prevent others from learning. They were violent and impossible to control. In each case when she asked her headmaster what sanctions she had, she was told there were none. She was not allowed to send them home. In one case she was told, "Don't, for God's sake, do anything or we shall have the parents coming and beating us up." That situation is extremely dangerous and something must be done to solve it. It may be one reason for suggesting the retention of the power, but I cannot support the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: It seems to me that the noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred to situations which do not relate to independent schools. First, staff in independent schools have the power of expulsion and therefore the situation is quite different from that which pertains in the cases to which the noble Baroness referred.

I support wholeheartedly what the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said about discipline not necessarily having to be associated with corporal punishment. Indeed, it seems to me that corporal

16 Jun 1998 : Column 1500

punishment is frequently the easy way out when one is talking of discipline. There are other ways of disciplining which are far more effective. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about discipline within a caring ethos. There are ways of disciplining within a caring ethos which are far more demanding both for those who administer the discipline and for those who receive it.

Earlier, there was mention of the association between corporal discipline and religion. I found that rather difficult to follow. I am not clear quite what forms of religion were being referred to. Certainly, the religious tradition in which I stand goes back to the gospels. I should find it difficult to find in the gospels any mention of corporal punishment. In the gospels there is a strong sense of discipline and I should point out that the word "discipline" is related to the word "disciple". A disciple is one who learns and discipline is to enable us to learn. But it is difficult to find in my religious tradition the notion of corporal punishment.

I always understood the phrase in loco parentis to mean those who took over responsibility and care of children, not that those who took over that particular role could do whatever parents do. It seems to me that there is a distinction between what institutions do and what a parent does. Again, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said. There is an immediacy about parental involvement, held as it is within a strong framework of affection which is different from discipline administered by an institution.

Finally, I make the point that many people these days choose to send their children to Church schools because they believe that in such schools there is precisely that strong, firm discipline within a caring ethos. But within Church schools, certainly those in the maintained sector, corporal punishment is not allowed.

Lord Milverton: I am afraid that I cannot support my noble friend's amendment. Perhaps my wife and I have been fortunate. We never wanted to smack. We never found it necessary and we never wanted to do it. To me, it seems senseless and pointless just as it seems to me to be pointless to have caning in some schools. I was caned. Why? Just because one had a half-cross mark for some misdemeanour. If one reached four crosses, one knew that meant the cane. One was caned by a sixth former, with the rest of the sixth form watching. Although it was meant to be hush-hush in the house, everybody knew that it would happen after prayers. One went to one's study and knew that there would be knock, knock, knock, and one would be told to go along to the library to receive one's punishment. It seems pointless.

In all this, surely discipline comes from winning respect. One knows that it is dashed hard for teachers in many state schools. Is one of the reasons for nuisance children who prevent others from learning that their parents have not been able to win their children's respect, or that those children have not seen their parents give respect to others? Surely the core of discipline is respect, not only towards others but towards oneself.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 1501

Children will respect adults who respect them. That is how it must be done. That is a hard task. At the school where my wife teaches, Marlborough College, a girl from a state school is attending for her sixth form years. She and her sister found it dashed hard to learn at the state school because it was made hard for them to do so. The staff were, in a sense, tired out by doing what they had to do. It was difficult for those girls to get the staff to help them. All credit to that girl's sister: she got through it and went to university. Discipline comes from respect between all.

Baroness Warnock: I hope that this debate will turn out satisfactorily for me. I hope that we shall not be high on the concept of liberty--that we are depriving people of their liberty by refusing to continue to permit corporal punishment in independent schools. It is clear that we are divided morally--that is, whether we think corporal punishment is right or wrong is a moral question. There is also a tremendous amount of evidence in schools that violence breeds violence. The best schools are those where corporal punishment has not for a long time been used even if it is permitted.

There is a huge difference between passing and enforcing a law that is intrusive and would in any case be difficult to enforce--such as one making it illegal to exercise corporal punishment in the home. The concept of corporal punishment in an institution, be it a private school or maintained school, is ultimately under the eye of the law. What happens there can be discovered without undue intrusiveness or spying. It is one of those frequent cases where, for example, one might wish for a law against adultery but to have such a law would be obviously and hopelessly intrusive. The evils that came from such a law would be far worse than any good that could come of it. One must always take into account the difference between private morality and public morality. We are undoubtedly debating what is public morality.

As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, knows, I am not much enamoured of the concept of human rights but, where we are prepared to talk about human rights, we are talking about a consensus of what is evil and bad for human beings in general. If we must talk about human rights, there is a consensus--as demonstrated in another place, against corporal punishment. We would be utterly wrong to go against that consensus--although we are all perfectly entitled to express our own moral opinions.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page