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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 08:33 GMT
MPs oppose moves to ban smacking
Actors simulate a smacking
Parents could be prosecuted if they cause 'actual bodily harm'
An attempt to ban parents in England and Wales from smacking their children as a punishment have been defeated.

Labour health committee chairman David Hinchliffe had argued the issue was one of the "basic human rights" as he moved his amendment to the Children Bill.

Despite 47 Labour MPs rebelling to back an outright ban, it was defeated by 424 to 75 votes.

A compromise amendment outlawing smacks which leave marks or cause mental harm was backed by 284 votes to 208.

Smacking is hitting and smacking hurts. It causes not only physical harm it causes harm inside too
David Hinchliffe MP

The government-backed compromise amendment, originally tabled by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester, allows for a mild form of smacking and retains the notion parents should be allowed to physically chastise children.

Backers of the ban argued the compromise solution was a "fudge", while Tony Blair has described it as a "common sense" solution.

But Children's Minister Margaret Hodge pledged to review the change outlawing all but the mildest smack in two years' time.


Mr Hinchliffe's amendment stated that "battery of a child cannot be justified in any proceedings on the grounds that it constituted reasonable punishment".

But it argued smacks may be used in order to prevent danger to a child, another person, damage to property or a crime.

Moving the motion, Mr Hinchliffe told MPs: "At least one child every week - and over 50 every year dies - at the hands of its parents.

"Smacking is hitting and smacking hurts. It causes not only physical harm it causes harm inside too.

" So, yes, this amendment would criminalise hitting to exactly the same extent as hitting adults is criminalised.

"That is equality and children - far more fragile and vulnerable than us - deserve nothing less."

There is a world of difference between discipline and abuse
Richard, Sheffield, UK

The children's minister argued that the compromise amendment toughened up the law on physical punishment but did not criminalise parents for administering a "light smack".

"There is a world of difference between a light smack and violence or abuse. We should recognise that the vast majority of parents understand that difference and would never deliberately harm their children.

"The government simply does not believe that every single instance of parental smacking should be an offence."

Tory Andrew Turner said the compromise caused more confusion, saying it removed the "reasonable chastisement" defence for assault and battery of a child but retained it for actual bodily harm.

'Loving parents'

Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas pointed out that the common law defence once applied to wives and servants as well.

Liberal Democrat Annette Brooke backed Mr Hinchliffe's motion saying smacking was an "inefficient punishment" which had other consequences such as engendering a physical disrespect of others.

Tory Andrew Robathan described those calling for a ban as arrogant. He said: "I have two small children to whom I'm devoted and I love them more than anything else in the world. Very, very occasionally I smack them - much more often I threaten them with it and funnily enough it works rather well."

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children criticised the government compromise saying it defined an acceptable threshold of violence towards children.

The Children Bill also introduces a Children's Commissioner for England and places a "duty of care" on all services to prevent harm to children.

It also introduces many operational reforms of social services including the creation of a national database of records held on every single child, to improve tracking across different services.

The Bill was given an unopposed third reading and now returns to the Lords.

What smacking legislation reform means for parents

No 10 rejects smacking ban move
21 Jun 04 |  Politics
Children 'smacked too hard'
10 Jul 03 |  Health
Peers reject child smacking ban
06 Jul 04 |  Politics

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