The attempt to bring back corporal punishment was defeated in the Commons, but only after more than 100 MPs voted for its restoration. In a technically "free" vote, 101 caners were routed by a cross-party coalition of 376 MPs, giving a majority of 275 against.
Government ministers were under strict instructions not to back the attempt to restore the cane. But an array of former ministers, including the former Education Secretary John MacGregor and the right-wing former Tory leadership contender John Redwood, defiantly called for its restoration.
The free vote for Conservative backbenchers was promised in November, when the Prime Minister instructed the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Gillian Shephard, to make it clear that 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 to be used 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 a 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 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 Hinchliffe: "Many of 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 Hinchliffe said if it had done Mr Carlisle no harm, "Why is he sat on those [Conservative] benches?"
Opposing the proposal for the Government, the 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 teachers wanted its restoration.
Earlier, Labour celebrations over a government defeat inflicted on Monday proved premature, as it emerged that a House of Commons vote had been miscounted. Both main parties confirmed Monday's apparent one-vote opposition victory over the Education Bill was in fact a draw.
Labour sources said the Government Chief Whip, Alastair Goodlad, had written a letter "pleading" for help in reinstating the tied clause, which would have allowed popular schools to expand without special permission.
Labour rejected that request, saying: "We are in a situation of non-cooperation and if the Government wish to try to resolve this they must do it the best way they can."
David Aaronovitch, page 8
"This new clause is about discipline in schools and caning. It is about, at all times, reasonable punishment".
James Pawsey, Conservative MP for Rugby and Kenilworth
"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".
John Carlisle, Conservative MP for Luton NorthReuse content