Blair rejects plea to ban smacking

The Prime Minister yesterday risked alienating pro-children groups when he declined calls to outlaw the smacking of children.

Tony Blair, despite two Parliamentary committees hedging toward a ban on the grounds that the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence was too readily relied upon by abusers in court, said the decision to smack or not was best left to responsible parents.

The Lords and Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Health Select Committee both backed the ban.

The joint human rights committee warned the defence was inconsistent with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘The Government believes that most parents accept and understand that there is a clear and fundamental difference between discipline and abuse and know where the line lies between them.

‘We do not believe that criminalising parents is the right way to go about this. We do believe that parents have a common sense understanding in this area.’

The debate is highly sensitive as it comes in the wake of tragic death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in February 2000, who died from mistreatment at the hands of her carers, her great-aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and Carl Manning.

The Government has moved to ban corporal punishment in public places such as day care centres and schools.

Yesterday, the Labour leadership concurred with some of the sentiment on opposition benches which argued for greater parental empowernment coupled with rights and responsbilities.

Dr Liam Fox, Tory spokesman on health said outlawing smacking would be an ‘outrageous intrusion’ by the state.

David Hinchliffe, the chairman of the health select committee and a former social worker, said: ‘I have seen children suffer as a consequence of this gap in the law. The reasonable chastisement defence has played a significant part in the inability of our child protection services to ensure that children’s lives are saved.’

He is to meet Margaret Hodge, the new minister for children, next week to discuss proposals for a private members’ bill PMB that would grant MPs a free vote on the issue.