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The Times, London, 29 January 1997
90 Tory MPs defy government line in school caning vote
By Andrew Pierce, Political Correspondent
MORE than 90 Tory MPs defied the government line last night to vote in favour of the restoration of corporal punishment. The size of the vote, which was much bigger than party business managers had anticipated, underlined the scale of the divisions in the Tory party on the issue.
Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, who publicly declared her support for the cane last November, was forced to go against her instinct and side with the Government last night. During the debate she had been conspicuous by her absence from the chamber.
The Prime Minister, aware of the strong surge of support for the cane, agreed in November to a free vote for backbench MPs to try to limit a damaging revolt on a three-line whip. However, ministers and their parliamentary aides were on a three-line whip to vote against the rebel Tory backbench amendment.
Mrs Shephard was rebuked by the Prime Minister in November for speaking out in favour of caning in defiance of government policy. Hours later she repeated her support for the cane.
The amendment, to restore corporal punishment with parental consent, was moved by James Pawsey, the right-wing Tory MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, during the report stage of the Education Bill. It was rejected by 376 votes to 101. No Labour MPs supported the amendment.
One minister, forced to vote against the amendment, said: "It is a conscience issue. It is disgraceful that we were ordered to toe the government line on such an emotive matter. When will we learn?"
Mr Pawsey, chairman of the Tory backbench education committee, told the Commons: "This is not about beating, thrashing, flogging or any other emotive phrases so beloved of those who oppose corporal punishment. This new clause is about discipline in schools and caning. It is about reasonable punishment. The cane is a powerful deterrent. The fact it exists is enough to ensure classroom discipline."
Exclusions damaged a child "a great deal more than one or two strokes of the cane because they thrust outside the school gates the very children who would gain most from being inside the classroom, he said. "The introduction of the cane would be a decision made by head teachers, governors and parents. It gives added choice to individual schools."
Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former Tory Education Minister who supported the amendment, said: "Strong support for discipline in schools is the way the Tories can win the general election. There was a distinct message here for the Prime Minister."
Harry Greenway, Tory MP for Ealing North and a former comprehensive school headmaster, said: "We showed the Government tonight that Tory MPs want to bring back the cane."
Tony Marlow, Tory MP for Northampton North, who tabled an amendment to enable caning to be restored without parental consent but in a way which was not "inhuman or degrading", said: "Everybody now realises that taking caning away from schools was one of the main causes of the breakdown of discipline. We have seen many of our schools reduced to anarchy. The vote tonight shows that the soul of the Tory party supports the restoration of the cane."
Eric Forth, the Education Minister, resisting the amendment, said that the Government did not support the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools.
Peter Kilfoyle, Labour spokesman, said: "I can think of nothing more barbaric than State-sanctioned assault on children and that is what is being advocated tonight."
Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "There isn't a single teachers' union or teachers' professional association who believes that corporal punishment would be beneficial to reducing indiscipline."
On the last occasion the Commons voted on corporal punishment, John Major, who was a junior minister, voted in favour of its restoration. It was rejected by one vote.
If caning had been restored the Government would have been on a potential collision course with the European Court of Human Rights.
The Independent, London, 29 January 1997
Commons thrashing for the cane brigade
By Anthony Bevins and Fran Abrams
Tory backbench calls for the reintroduction of corporal punishment were soundly defeated in the Common last night -- with 101 caners routed by a cross-party coalition of 376 MPs, giving a majority of 275 against, in a free vote.
The free vote for Conservative backbenchers was promised in November, when the Prime Minister instructed Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard to make clear the Government had no intention of restoring corporal punishment, after she had embarrassingly revealed her support for caning.
Opening last night's debate, Tory backbencher James Pawsey said he wanted caning as an alternative to the exclusion of unruly pupils from schools. With almost 9,000 pupils permanently barred from secondary schools in 1994-95, he said the cost of exclusion was misuse of scarce resources.
Mr Pawsey, MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, said his amendment to the Education Bill, which would have required parental consent for caning, was not about "beating, thrashing, flogging or any of the other emotive phrases so beloved of those who oppose corporal punishment. This new clause is about discipline in schools and caning. It is about, at all times, reasonable punishment."
Lady Olga Maitland said the suggestion that girls should be caned was "barbaric", prompting Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, a Conservative colleague, to interject that if girls behaved as badly as boys, "they deserve to be treated the same".
John Carlisle, Conservative MP for Luton North, told Labour opponent David Hinchcliffe: "Many on this side have suffered the indignity of caning, which probably many of the other side [of the House] have not, for reasons of fathers' income. Will he accept from me that no clothing had to be removed; in fact many of us put cardboard in our pants. It was degrading; it was painful; weals were actually put on one's buttocks; blood actually did come; and that was on the basis that because of the punishment one did not do that particular offence again."
Mr Hinchcliffe said if it had done Mr Carlisle no harm, "why is he sat on those [Conservative] benches?"
Opposing the proposal for the Government, right-wing education minister Eric Forth said school records taken before the abolition of corporal punishment in 1986 showed the same pupils were repeatedly caned. It was no deterrent; and there was no evidence that teachers wanted its restoration.
As for parental consent, an attempt to get round the barrier of the European Convention on Human Rights, Mr Forth said: "Surely it would be the case that those parents who are likely to give consent are the very ones whose children would not need corporal punishment?"
For the parliament debate in full, see House of Commons: Corporal punishment lawful with parental consent (EXTERNAL LINK to House of Commons Hansard -- the debate spans several pages: click on "Next Section" at the bottom left of each page)
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