Ministers are to pursue a "middle road" strategy by allowing parents to smack their children so long as they do not cause physical harm.
The Health Secretary, John Reid, said he believed most people would back the approach, which will take shape during a House of Lords debate on the Children Bill today.
But campaigners for a ban on smacking criticised the Government, arguing that its strategy effectively defined ways in which children could continue to be abused. They predicted that many Labour peers would continue to press for a ban.
Wary of being accused of encouraging a "nanny state", Tony Blair is against legislation banning smacking. But faced with the prospect of a rebellion by Labour peers and MPs, the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, have decided to allow a free vote on a proposal to limit the use of the traditional defence of "reasonable chastisement".
The proposal is contained in an amendment to the Bill tabled by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
Under the amendment, any parent who inflicted actual bodily harm on a child could be prosecuted and would no longer have the protection of the reasonable chastisement defence, which dates back to 1860.Reuse content