Jim Wallace, Justice Minister, announced the decision following a critical report from the Parliament's justice 2 committee. The move was welcomed by parent representatives but attacked by the leading children's groups.
Mr Wallace himself cited this division as the main reason for abandoning his proposals and disclosed that 38 per cent of parents favoured a ban on smacking under-threes, 48 per cent supported a ban on smacking under-twos and 52 per cent a ban on smacking those under one. But 41 per cent said it should remain legal to smack a child.
The full findings will be published shortly. They echo the results of a survey by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council which rejected the proposals for under-threes by 56 per cent to 44 per cent.
The climbdown was welcomed by Judith Gillespie, development manager of the SPTC, who said the courts already had powers to deal with excessive punishment of children, and parents should not be criminalised for minor offences. "Nobody in our survey questioned the importance of protecting children against abuse," Mrs Gillespie said. "But the results support and confirm our view that the law should not intervene in the home."
The justice committee agreed: "We do not wish to see an increase in the prosecution of parents for moderate physical punishment and we do not accept that it is realistic to remove an available defence to the charge of assault while at the same time reassuring Parliament that the number of prosecutions will not increase as a result."
Mr Wallace commented: "I have said repeatedly that I would pay very particular attention to the views of Parliament on this matter. It is clear from today's report that there is insufficient support from MSPs to impose any age ban on the smacking of very young children."
The Children are Unbeatable umbrella group also opposed an arbitrary limit but for the rather different reason that it wanted to protect children of all ages.
The Justice Minister had argued that an increase in prosecutions would be unlikely and that courts would use their discretion not to prosecute trivial cases. The committee said this amounted to the Scottish Executive "trying to have its cake and eat it".
The Faculty of Advocates, Mr Wallace's own professional association, told the committee: "If a criminal offence is created, it must be accepted that people will commit it and be convicted." The committee did support the proposed blanket ban on blows to the head.