"The maxim `spare the rod and spoil the child' is more appropriate and relevant today than it has ever been in our history," Nicholas Winterton, MP for Macclesfield, said to cheers.
"Despite the Herculean efforts of the Government to reduce crime in recent years, crime, and the fear of crime, continue to blight our lives. Young people who commit offences of violence against the person should be in receipt of a dose of their own medicine."
With a note of regret, Minister of State David Maclean said that "unfortunately" he had no plans to reintroduce corporal punishment into the powers of the courts. "Mr Winterton makes a very good point which will strike a chord with many in this nation," he conceded. None the less in the latest year for which figures were available there had been a remarkable 5.5 per cent drop in the crime level.
"It would satisfy the desire of many to see punishment of this sort, however the deterrent value might be more questionable."
Next came a googly from Ken Maginnis, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, with IRA punishment beatings in mind. If the minister reconsidered his decision on corporal punishment it could have a significant effect in Northern Ireland, said the wily Ulster Unionist.
"It would bring the Government into line with the IRA-Sinn Fein whose wishes, ethos and practices it has tried so hard to concede over the past few weeks."
Mr Maclean stepped round the "tempting trap".
The Home Secretary Michael Howard was more receptive to the call for boot camps where, as Tory Nigel Evans explained with relish, offenders were forced to march and run in all weathers.
Sir Ivan Lawrence, Conservative chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, urged Mr Howard to introduce the camps on a pilot basis.
"These camps provide training in discipline and respect for other people which we have lost since the abolition of National Service," Sir Ivan said. "They provide training in the work ethic and respect for other people in society, particularly families. The advantages of this are beginning to percolate into the American system and ought to be obtained here."
Mr Evans, MP for Ribble Valley, said the US camps had reduced reoffending from 60 per cent to 13 per cent.
Sir Ivan's committee recently paid a visit to the camps. So too has Mr Howard and members of the Prison Service. The Home Secretary said a study of the US system was being evaluated.
"I share his enthusiasm for some of the facets of the boot camp system and I hope to make an announcement shortly."
Fallen minister Neil Hamilton may not be the most popular of customers at the Paris Ritz in future should it get about that he regards France as "an economic vassal state of Germany".
Mr Hamilton, forced to resign as a trade minister last year after allegations that he accepted hospitality at the Ritz from Harrods head Mohammed Fayed for asking parliamentary questions, aired his Euro-scepticism during exchanges with the Prime Minister. No sooner had Mr Hamilton uttered the word "France" in a question criticising the European exchange rate mechanism than Labour MPs started shouting "Ritz, Ritz" and Speaker Betty Boothroyd had to restore order.
Mr Hamilton said France had had to raise interest rates by 1.5 per cent despite inflation being virtually non-existent and unemployment of 12.5 per cent.
"This has been necessary in order to confirm France's status as an economic vassal state of Germany." It was a cause for congratulation that the Government was not obliged to take the same course of action and they ought to make more of the fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats were "committed to such a ruinous policy".
But John Major did not seem disposed to gloat. The underlying reason for the difficulties of the franc was the "pretty massive" flight into Deutschmarks as a result of an unsettled international situation, he said.
"As I indicated to the House some time ago ... I see no prospect of sterling returning to the Exchange Rate Mechanism for some time," he said to Tory cheers. "The fundamentals of the British economy are such that I'm delighted we're not suffering precisely the difficulty France has."
Another Tory sceptic, Michael Spicer, MP for Worcestershire South, said the rise of the mark against the pound was a good thing for British exporters to Germany and bad for their German competitors. "Therefore would it not be a very bad thing if ever we were again to shadow the Deutschmark?" he asked.
"Well, we're not shadowing the Deutschmark and I don't anticipate that we're going to," Mr Major replied with a curiously rueful tone.
The chance would be a fine thing.
Howard `slur', page 12
Wilkes' Diary, page 21Reuse content