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House of Lords

Thursday, 19th February 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Bullying in Schools

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to tackle bullying in schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the Government attach a high priority to helping prevent and combat bullying. We are planning several initiatives, including an international conference to explore strategies successfully used in various countries to tackle bullying, and further guidance to schools building on my department's anti-bullying pack published in 1994. We will also be taking more active steps to spread information on good practice in combating the problem.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's Answer. However, is she aware that the Government have not gone as far as they could have done before the international conference? Bullying is causing enormous damage to children; it even leads to suicides. Will my noble friend consider a proposal under which an annual report must be presented to the Minister by every school on its anti-bullying policy? Does she agree that there should be a requirement on every school to present to the Minister what has or has not been done? Will she further consider a league table so that everyone knows which are the good and bad schools in relation to bullying? If that is done, we shall have more information about the anti-bullying policies of schools and about those schools which are failing to do anything about the matter.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend when he says that bullying is totally unacceptable. It can certainly scar a child for life and do terrible damage. I am confident that the vast majority of schools have adopted an anti-bullying strategy and do take the matter very seriously. However, where schools are not doing as well as they should in this respect we must do something about it. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently lent his support to a number of anti-bullying campaigns. We expect school development policies to reflect proper anti-bullying strategies. To publish statistics in the form of a league table, to use my noble friend's term, would be difficult. Clearly, there are many definitions as to

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what constitutes bullying. It is therefore very hard to collect statistics. What is important is that we take action.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I normally agree with proposals advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. I do not agree that there is any great value in publishing tables. The only tables we should see would be from schools where bullying is a known and acknowledged problem. Does the Minister agree that the greatest difficulty is discovering where bullying goes on? What can be done to improve discovery and to give children who are bullied the courage to come forward and say it is happening? Should we not give teachers the responsibility of accepting that this practice is going on and of listening carefully to what the bullied child is saying?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I agree very much with the noble Baroness's comments. It would be difficult to produce either valid or reliable statistics. I can see all sorts of ways in which those schools that had identified bullying would then want to try to underestimate it. And there would be schools which had not discovered it. It is important that we get all schools, their governing bodies and staff to take the problem very seriously and work together with parents to try to root it out. Parents have a big role to play. When they are concerned that their child is being bullied, it is important for them to talk to the child about it and then take the matter up with the teaching staff of the school. In that way we shall make some progress.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it often comes down to a question of leadership and that where head teachers recognise that there is a problem and are prepared to take decisive action it is possible to remove much bullying from schools? The problem arises when head teachers refuse to see the problem and do not listen to parents, thus allowing bullying to become a serious matter in those schools. Does the Minister accept that in the training and development of head teachers there is a need to give a particular focus to the issue of bullying?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes. As in all matters where schools are concerned, the leadership of head teachers is central. I accept what my noble friend says. The training of head teachers should include consideration of how to intervene to prevent bullying wherever it occurs. That kind of training should be available, I believe to every classroom teacher as well. It is, after all, the classroom teacher who is most likely to be able to observe bullying and pick it up. Of course, head teachers must do their best to make sure their staff take the matter seriously.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, is it not the case that bullying is at its least in church schools? Is there not a lesson there?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I was not aware that there was less bullying in church schools than in

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county schools. If my noble friend can provide evidence of that, we shall look into it and see what we have to learn from church schools.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, following on from that point, does the Minister agree that the important factor is that the whole atmosphere of the school is right and that the hidden curriculum of the school should be one of good relationships, one person to another, and kindness to one another? If bullying can be seen as going against the atmosphere of the school, it is easier to stop it.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. It is a whole-school policy that is required. It is the ethos of the school that is important, so that all children and young people understand that bullying is intolerable and completely unacceptable behaviour.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the following two propositions? First, studies have shown definitions of bullying: there is no problem about that. Secondly, if we can name and shame schools with regard to school standards, we can name and shame them with regard to bullying, which is an equally serious problem.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with my noble friend that definitions of bullying are very easy. Bullying can be psychological as well as physical. It can be difficult to identify until some time after it has begun. Certainly, if we were to discover that serious bullying was going on in particular schools with no effort being made to address the matter we should do something to identify the failure of those schools in that regard.

Jury Research

3.15 p.m.

Lord Borrie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have for the repeal of Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 so as to permit independent and authoritative research into the working of juries in civil and criminal cases.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, my noble friend knows as well as any of your Lordships the controversy that has surrounded this issue in the past. He addressed it in his own work, Law of Contempt, in 1973, which I studied in its first edition at the time and was pleased to see yesterday has now reached its third edition.

Section 8 provides that:

    "it is a contempt of court to obtain, disclose or solicit any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations".

That statutory provision was introduced in your Lordships' House by way of amendments. The Government have no plans to repeal Section 8. On

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the other hand, the Government would listen with care to any proposals for forms of jury research and to representations about the need for amendment to Section 8 to permit the research proposed.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, in thanking my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for that response, perhaps I may ask him whether the present Government have considered the proposal of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice of five years ago which said that such research was desirable because informed debate is better than argument based, as they put it, on surmise and anecdote? Further, bearing in mind the Government's own consultation paper of three days ago on serious fraud trials, in which several of the options put forward by the Government include the elimination or restriction of jury trials, would it not be better to have research into how juries reach their verdicts before the Government reach decisions on such important matters?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, we are well aware of what the 1993 Runciman Royal Commission on Criminal Justice had to say about Section 8 and we have noticed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, in his press interview on assuming office in 1996 indicated that he would favour some form of limited jury research. In that, he departed from the views of his two immediate predecessors. We believe that he would support no more than researchers, licensed, say, by the Lord Chancellor, interviewing jurors post-trials to ascertain their level of understanding of the issues in the case on terms that neither the case nor the jurors interviewed would be identified in the research. I see that my noble friend nods his head; I believe that that is the position with which he would associate himself.

I am asked about the consultation paper issued a few days ago on juries in serious fraud trials. That consultation paper recognised the limitations imposed by Section 8. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible that views could be expressed about jury trials in serious fraud cases that would be free-standing and not dependent upon jury research--for example, that the cases are too long and too much for juries, as for example in the Blue Arrow case, or that there is an unfairness to the prosecution in having to divide the total picture of criminality into separate parts so that the whole picture does not come in front of the jury, as perhaps exemplified by the Maxwell case. It would be possible therefore for the view to emerge that the general advantages of juries in serious criminal cases are outweighed by the disadvantages in that class of case, regardless of any research.

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