Compromise suggested on child smacking ban

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Indy Politics

Hopes of a compromise deal between anti-smacking campaigners and the Government grew last night. Ministers will oppose a change to the Children Bill in the Lords today that would ban all smacking except to prevent immediate danger to children, but they were considering dropping opposition to a compromise banning punishment "that causes physical or mental harm" to children.

Government lawyers were considering the implications of the proposal, from a Liberal Democrat frontbencher, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. A government source said ministers were opposed to a full ban on smacking, but were willing to offer a free vote on the compromise tightening the current law, which allows "reasonable chastisement".

The source said: "Wedo not believe that parents would want the Government to tell them how to discipline their children and we think rightly so, but we have said we would be happy to make movement in this area."

Tony Blair's spokesman said yesterday: "The Prime Minister does not believe that there should be a law banning parents from smacking their children." Ministers accept, however, that the current defence of reasonable chastisement can be used to deflect genuine charges of child abuse.

More than 30 public figures, including the stage and screen directors Richard Eyre and Stephen Frears and the agony aunts Virginia Ironside and Claire Rayner, wrote yesterday to Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, calling on him to support a change in the law. They said the "only way to clarify and modernise the law is to give children equal protection from assault".

A coalition of peers from all parties, who are supporting a ban, said yesterday that the issue of smacking was "a serious matter of equality, human rights and child protection". Baroness Whitaker, a Labour peer and one of the sponsors of an amendment introducing a ban, said: "It is also clearly a conscience issue and the government should therefore allow peers a free vote."

Baroness Walmsley, a Liberal Democrat peer, said: "The pressure for reform is now overwhelming. All elements of modern multi-disciplinary child protection - from social services directors to the children's charities - support equal protection reform and we should act on their concern."

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said: "The current law, dating back to 1860, gives children less protection from assault than any other member of our society, even though they are smaller and more fragile. We must move into the 21st century and modernise the law to give children equal protection."

A spokesman for the lobby group Children are Unbeatable said more than 100 peers were expected to support a ban on smacking today. But under the change parents would still be able to smack children in exceptional circumstances, such as to stop them walking into a road or harming another child.