Since 1987, corporal punishment has been illegal in local authority, grant-maintained and voluntary-aided schools.
The Children Act forbids the use of corporal punishment in children's homes and by foster parents.
An anomaly in the law means that children on assisted places or local authority grants are protected from corporal punishment in private schools, but fee-paying children are not.
The European Court ruled last year that moderate corporal punishment in private schools was not unlawful.
Five European countries have outlawed all physical punishment of children.
The Government has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children should be protected from all forms of violence.
Department of Health guidance under the Children Act, on which Sutton thought that it could rely, states: 'Corporal punishment (smacking, slapping or shaking) is illegal in maintained schools and should not be used by any other parties within the scope of this guidance' - such parties includes child-minders. However, it adds that it is permissible to take physical action to prevent injury to a child, or to other children, or adults, or to prevent serious damage to property.
In 1991, Virginia Bottomley wrote to Epoch, the body which campaigns against corporal punishment for children, stating that: 'This department has implemented its policy that, outside the family, physical punishment has no place in the childcare environment.'Reuse content