The Sketch: Let us not forget how much smacking has contributed to civilisation

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The Independent Online

As the author of the longest flogging sequence in modern English fiction ( The Hop Quad Dolly, Hutchinson, 1991) I feel I can throw some light on the smacking Bill going through the House of Lords.

As the author of the longest flogging sequence in modern English fiction ( The Hop Quad Dolly, Hutchinson, 1991) I feel I can throw some light on the smacking Bill going through the House of Lords.

The great debate is now between those on the side of the angels who favour criminalising parents who abuse their children in this way - and on the other, the brutal reactionaries who want to allow crippled, out-of-control parents to smack as hard as they like provided it doesn't cause "reddening of the skin" or "any form of physical or emotional distress".

Society has changed wonderfully, has it not? In Tudor times it was not unheard of for schoolboys and apprentices to be flogged to death. Yesterday, one of the peers scoffingly quoted some court evidence from 1690 pleading the natural right of men to chastise children, apprentices, servants, prisoners and lunatics. In fact, in those days, you could be flogged for almost anything: in some schools not smoking was floggable (tobacco was thought to be a prophylactic against the plague). At Winston Churchill's prep school, a boy being held over the block once "let fly" and as the master flogged on, the walls and ceilings of the study became covered in blood stains and what we might call "personal waste".

Yes, we've changed a lot in three hundred years, and not always for the worse. Here we are, civilised and certain that these excesses are behind us, holding it as self-evident that this "serious violation of the dignity of the child" cannot be tolerated. Indeed, a peer told us, smacking is the "route to death". Smacking leads to battery, you see, and battery leads to child murder. That was an argument so poor it belonged in the Commons.

There were other arguable propositions put to their lordships. "The physical force behind the smack is severely under-estimated by half of hitters." How do they know that, as a matter of interest? "Half of all children will be beaten for wanting a cuddle," a peer said. Are we to take that seriously?

"Calm loving produces a disciplined mind" was another very peculiar idea. Calm loving makes me behave abominably in supermarkets. And how about "38 per cent of children are hit more than once a week"? I just don't believe that, frankly. I've been involved in enough children's surveys to know how corrupt the data are. It may be true that smacking produces increased aggression and less internalised morality and compromised mental health. But in the name of diversity let's not forget how valuable these qualities are to civilisation, let alone British fiction.

A seven-year-old was quoted as saying: "A big person should not hit a little person. Ever." Well, she would say that, wouldn't she? And if the debate is to be conducted on the basis of what seven-year-olds think it will certainly be out of the reach of the Commons.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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