Ban on smacking is turned down by MPs

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Parents were given permission last night to continue using a light slap as a form of discipline after the Commons rejected a move to outlaw smacking children.

The policy will be reviewed by the Government after two years and parents will be consulted on the working of a new attempt to tighten the law to stop the abuse of children. The Government's Children Bill will abolish the defence of "reasonable chastisement" for cases of actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and cruelty of children.

A former social worker, Labour MP David Hinchliffe, led rebel MPs in a cross-party attempt to amend the Bill to outlaw smacking. The Government and Tories opposed his amendment, which was rejected by 424 votes to 75, a majority of 349.

Tony Blair told campaigners on the eve of the vote that he could not support a ban on smacking. He told MPs that on this issue politicians should use their instincts as parents.

Margaret Hodge, the minister for Children, said: "It is wrong to create a new offence by imposing a ban on smacking which would leave parents wondering if a smack could lead to them being in prison."

However, children's charities, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and Labour MPs warned the Government that the new law would be unworkable. It will require the prosecution to decide whether signs of beating, such as reddening of the skin or bruising, constitute an offence. MPs warned that the new law would be a "lawyer's charter".

Tory MPs called for the law to remain unchanged and opposed the idea of a total ban on smacking in a debate that saw tempers flare in the chamber.

Mr Hinchliffe, the Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Health, said as a social worker he had personal experience of cases in which a gentle smack had progressed to hitting, shaking and serious injury of a child.

The use of the "reasonable chastisement" defence by parents had made it difficult to secure prosecutions for child abuse, he said. "It is a scandal ... in 21st-century Britain that at least one child every week - over 80 a year - dies at the hands of their parents or carers."

The change in the law was forced on the Government by a ruling in the European Court of Human Rights which criticised the UK in 1998 over a case in which a boy was beaten by his stepfather.

Julie Kirkbride, the Tory MP for Bromsgrove, said parents had a duty of care to their children and smacking might be appropriate in that context.

Annette Brooke, the Liberal Democrat MP for Mid Dorset and Poole North, supported a total ban on smacking. There were Labour shouts of "pathetic!" when she was challenged by John Redwood, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, who said: "What would happen if a child was smacked in the privacy of the home. Is the idea that the child would know about this law and go to the police?"

There was a furious row when Andrew Robathan, the Tory MP for Blaby, clashed with Chris Bryant, the openly gay Labour MP for Rhondda, telling him: "You will never have a child." There were shouts of "disgrace" and Mr Robathan apologised for his remarks.

Tim Loughton, the shadow minister for Children, said there was no causal link between light smacking and abusing children.

Tony Samphier, for the Children Are Unbeatable! alliance, said: "Tony Blair has chosen Victorian values over modern family standards. History will frown on him as the Prime Minister who failed to give children the same protection from being hit that he himself enjoys."