Government u-turn as ministers tell parents they CAN smack their children

Last updated at 13:37 25 October 2007

Ministers ruled out a complete ban on smacking today after a Government review found the majority of parents opposed such a move.

Children's Minister Kevin Brennan said the law would stay as it is after officials reviewed the way new rules were working.

Despite calls from many organisations for a ban, Mr Brennan said the evidence was that fewer parents now use smacking to discipline their children.

In a statement to MPs, he said: "Whilst many parents say they will not smack, a majority of parents say that smacking should not be banned outright.

"The Government will retain the law in its current form, in the absence of evidence it is not working satisfactorily."

Mr Brennan's announcement came after the Government conducted a review of the law, which changed in the 2004 Children's Act.

Section 58 of the Act removed the the defence of reasonable punishment from parents and adults acting "in loco parentis" who are charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding or grievous bodily harm, or cruelty to a child.

At the time, ministers promised to review the law to assess whether it was working.

Officials surveyed parents, children and examined other evidence for the review, which took place this summer.

Mr Brennan said: "The review found that smacking is becoming a less commonly used form of discipline as more parents recognise that there are more effective and acceptable methods of disciplining children."

But he continued: "Many organisations however support legislation to ban smacking.

"The police have discretion to deal with cases as they consider appropriate, taking into account factors including the evidence available, the public interest and the best interests of the child.

"The law is clear and section 58 has improved protection for children.

"But there appears to be a lack of awareness across different audiences about the scope and application of the law.

"In response, the Government will retain the law in its current form, in the absence of evidence it is not working satisfactorily.

"We will also do more to help with positive parenting."

Shadow children's minister Tim Loughton said: "This is a clear victory for common-sense.

"Clearly, if any adult is responsible for abuse and violence towards a child they need to face the full rigour of the law.

"But there is a world of difference between that and criminalising loving parents that use chastisement as they see fit in the interest of their child.

"There was never any public appetite for reopening this can of worms just three years after the issue was debated in Parliament."

The move has infuriated children's charities, who claim the law leaves many youngsters vulnerable to physical abuse at the hand of their parents or guardians.

Dame Mary Marsh, chief executive of children's charity NSPCC, said there was "no place for physical punishment of children".

She added: "We do not agree with the Government's view that the law is working effectively. Section 58 has not improved protection for children.

"While it is in force it must be properly understood by parents and the criminal justice system. The Government recognises this.

"We will continue to campaign for legal reform that will give children equal legal protection from assault as adults.

"The NSPCC is committed to helping parents find alternatives to physical punishment."

Meanwhile, Sir William Utting, spokesman for the Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance, said: "We are pleased that the Government has not slammed the door on modernising the law on assault to give children the same protection as adults.

"Ministers have simply put off the inevitable again.

"A clear majority of responses to the Government's public consultation favour changing the law, showing that things have moved on and this issue is now firmly mainstream.

"We will now step up the pressure on the Government to show leadership and champion this long overdue, progressive reform."

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