The Government bowed to parental pressure yesterday and decided against introducing a ban on smacking children.
Ministers had promised a review of legislation two years ago but decided to stick with the status quo after parents had overwhelmingly expressed support for the right to smack to remain.
The Government rejected the advice from most professional organisations – including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Royal College of Nursing – to outlaw the practice.
Kevin Brennan, Children's minister, said: "While many parents say they will not smack, a majority of parents say smacking should not be banned outright."
The consultation exercise mounted by the Government revealed that 59 per cent of parents believed the law should allow parents to smack their children – even though only 24 per cent said they had or would use smacking. Younger parents (only 7 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds) were far more likely to oppose smacking than older parents.
But even among those who disagreed that it was sometimes necessary to smack a child, 34 per still believed it would be wrong to introduce a blanket ban. Among young people (four to 16-year-olds) two-thirds said they had been smacked.
"Many children accepted that discipline and punishment were an important part of growing up and – while it was unpleasant – it was necessary," the review added. "However, most felt that smacking was out of place in modern childhood and that other punishments were more effective in bringing about reflection, changing behaviour and bringing about good and close relationships with parents. Children felt restricting access to television, toys and so forth were more effective than smacking as they were longer-lasting, inconvenienced them more and gave them time to reflect."
But yesterday's decision was condemned by groups and individuals working with children.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children's Commissioner for England, said: "I am disappointed at the Government's decision and see this as a missed opportunity to protect children from violence in the home. There is no good reason why children are the only people in the UK who can still be lawfully hit." Dame Mary Marsh, chief executive of the NSPCC, said there was "no place for the physical punishment of children".
Sir William Utting, spokesman for the Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance, said: "Ministers have simply put off the inevitable again... we will now step up pressure on the Government to show leadership and champion this long overdue, progressive reform."
But the Conservatives backed the Government. The party's children's spokesman, Tim Loughton, said: "This is a clear victory for common sense."