Leading article: Hitting people is wrong

It is a matter only of when smacking children will be banned in Britain, not whether. As we report today, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, the Children's Commissioner for England, has added his voice to a swelling chorus. The argument has essentially been won. Hitting people is wrong, and the law should give children, who are more vulnerable, the same rights as adults.

The objections to a ban have been torn down. It used to be claimed that the law should not intrude into family life. That no longer applies to an adult who hits a spouse or partner. It is now widely recognised that respect for fundamental human rights, of adults and of children, takes precedence over family ties.

It used to be claimed that a "light tap" is an effective part of practical parental discipline. Only a small minority of those that have given the matter serious thought continue to hold to this view. This newspaper does not always revere "expert" opinion, but it is notable that most parents, including those who have smacked their children or even that continue to do so, accept that it is not the best form of discipline.

That leaves the weakest objection of all: that a ban on smacking would be unenforceable. Much the same could be said about the law on domestic violence or driving while using a mobile phone. That is to ignore an important, if secondary, symbolic function of the law in expressing and reinforcing common values. We do not argue for the nanny state to dictate how parents should bring up their children, nor for the police to pry into people's homes. But law can have a role in backing up education and persuasion.

Tony Blair's government has moved too slowly, albeit in the right direction. It was only last year that the law was changed to ban smacking that leaves a mark. It was only last year that a Children's Commissioner for England was finally appointed. The pressures - including that of an important human-rights court case in Northern Ireland - are all one way. Hitting children will be banned one day in the near future. The sooner that day comes, the better.