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3.51 pm

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I was truly sorry to hear that diatribe against the efforts of thousands of hard-working and caring residential social workers and foster carers. If the hon. Gentleman has to make his points by denigrating the efforts of people in the care system, that is extremely unfortunate. Let me also point out to him that, in proposing the use of implements to chastise children, he flies in the face of public opinion as expressed in the Government's consultation paper "Protecting Children, Supporting Parents".

The best that can be said about this ten-minute Bill is that it is premature given last week's publication of the consultation document on the physical punishment of children. We have heard a great deal in the past week about the alleged common sense of physical punishment. Perhaps we should listen to today's children rather than harking back to our own childhoods or placing too much reliance on opinion surveys of adults.

25 Jan 2000 : Column 156

Research published last year by Carolyne Willow and Tina Hyder on behalf of the National Children's Bureau and Save the Children records the views of 76 children aged between five and eight. When they were asked about smacking, they said:


    "it hurts a lot and it make you unhappy".

It is a shame that Conservative Members do not seem prepared to hear the words of children carefully elicited by skilled people. I shall repeat what the children said:

    "it's what parents do when they hit you . . . only they call it a smack".

That challenges us all. I bet that is the most radical statement that has been quoted in the House so far this century.

Such statements should make the House and the Government think about the absolute nonsense of trying to define when and in which circumstances it is reasonable to hurt children, and about the absurd inconsistency of those who, rightly, rail against child abuse, bullying, domestic violence and violence crime--a subject mentioned by the hon. Gentleman--but who think it appropriate to demonstrate to children that some issues can be resolved by hitting them. There is a striking peculiarity about giving children--whom we generally regard as being vulnerable and requiring special consideration and protection--less protection under the law on assault than is given to adults.

Twenty-five days into the 21st century, it is truly pathetic that we are debating a measure called the Parental Authority Bill. The hon. Gentleman should have turned up in full Victorian fancy dress for his attempt to introduce legislation that is based on a 1960 judgment, that reinforces an Act of Parliament that is 67 years old, and that undermines the central concept of parental responsibility, which was introduced by the Conservative party with cross-party support in the Children Act 1989.

To many--certainly to me and perhaps to the hon. Gentleman--parenting is the best job that we shall ever have; it is also one of the hardest. However, it does not go on in isolation from the rest of the world, and it does no one--child or parent--any favours to pretend that it should. My children are now grown up, but I know that I--especially when I was a young parent--would have benefited from the sort of assistance set out in "Supporting Families", from the excellent booklets now supplied to all new parents by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and from the sort of leadership that thousands of foster carers and residential workers routinely receive--the instruction that, even in extremely difficult circumstances, physical punishment is wholly unacceptable.

There are far more productive and satisfactory ways of managing children's behaviour. There are so many occasions on which it is important that the House should

25 Jan 2000 : Column 157

reflect public opinion that it is easy to forget that it is sometimes important to lead. Physical punishment is a counsel of despair--something that is done when we cannot think of anything else to do or when we want to relieve our frustration, not when we want to help a child to learn or develop. It is a blind alley: if the child will not back down from the confrontation, the parent either has to back off or has to hit harder and harder, because he or she has put him or herself in the position of having to win.

There are hundreds of other methods that work. Those are founded on good relationships, listening to children, communicating effectively with them, being consistent and clear about what is wanted from them, explaining why and setting clear limits for behaviour. Sanctions should be used sparingly, but, when they are used, they must be made meaningful, taking the form of time out or the withholding of a treat--a form that relates to the child, its needs and interests. Disagreements are a great opportunity to develop problem-solving or negotiating skills. Modelling good behaviour works if parents are consistent. The list of alternatives to physical punishment goes on. Finally, it always helps to be able to laugh, put disagreements behind one and look forward to another day.

There are few experts--not on the Government Benches, nor on the Opposition Benches--and no paragons. However, "Protecting Children, Supporting Parents" has missed a great opportunity to offer parents real leadership in addition to effective support. We are only at the beginning of the consultation process and, presumably, there will be a free vote at some point, so there is still time for the Government to think again. The Parental Authority Bill is completely and hopelessly misguided. The House must remember the words of the seven-year-old quoted by Save the Children:

The hon. Member for Blaby wants to use implements to make the impact even worse. The Bill is unworthy of him and of the House. I hope that a Division will consign the Bill to the past, where it belongs.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 48, Noes 118.

Division No. 37
[4 pm


Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Chope, Christopher
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Duncan, Alan
Fabricant, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forsythe, Clifford
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fox, Dr Liam
Gale, Roger
Gray, James
Grieve, Dominic
Hawkins, Nick
Hunter, Andrew
Luff, Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Oaten, Mark
Ottaway, Richard
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Syms, Robert
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, William
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Desmond Swayne and
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn.


Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Ashton, Joe
Barnes, Harry
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Brake, Tom
Burstow, Paul
Butler, Mrs Christine
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Casale, Roger
Chaytor, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbett, Robin
Corston, Jean
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Dawson, Hilton
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Fearn, Ronnie
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Gapes, Mike
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Gunnell, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Hinchliffe, David
Home Robertson, John
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keetch, Paul
Kidney, David
Kirkwood, Archy
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Mudie, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Organ, Mrs Diana
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pickthall, Colin
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Rendel, David
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stinchcombe, Paul
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Todd, Mark
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Watts, David
White, Brian
Winnick, David
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mrs. Llin Golding and
Mr. Tony McWalter.

Question accordingly negatived.

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25 Jan 2000 : Column 159

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