Lords reject smack ban

9th July 2004 at 01:00
Compromise to allow parents to hit their children lightly satisfies few, reports Michael Shaw

Plans to ban parents from giving their children anything more than the lightest smack have been condemned as unworkable by charities and politicians.

The House of Lords this week rejected an outright ban on smacking. But peers passed an amendment to the Children Bill which would see parents facing up to five years' imprisonment if they caused bodily harm to their child.

Under the measure, smacks would no longer be considered "reasonable chastisement" if they led to cuts, bruises, scratches and swelling.

The compromise proposal was criticised by some politicians for infringing parents' rights. Conversely, children's charities attacked the amendment for failing to protect young people.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a crossbench peer, said: "We insist on zero tolerance on domestic violence once someone is 18 - but for children under one our society accepts at least half will be hit once a week.

"These are the children that go on to perform poorly at school and are unable to resolve conflict without violence and are more likely to end up in youth custody."

Baroness Howells of St Davids, a Labour peer, said that many people, including teachers, were already prohibited from smacking children. But she said that what parents really needed was help to stop them losing control.

MPs will debate the amendment when the Children Bill returns to the Commons, probably in the autumn.

David Hinchcliffe, Labour MP for Wakefield, said he would be pushing for a complete ban. He described the amendment as a "recipe for lawyers to print money", as there would be legal arguments over whether a smack was an assault.

A poll of more than 2,300 parents by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations found that only 10 per cent were in favour of the compromise proposal, that 61 per cent wanted the law to stay the same and that 22 per cent backed an outright smacking ban.

Welsh Assembly ministers intend to lobby Whitehall to use the Children Bill to implement some of the recommendations made by the Clywch report which investigated sexual abuse of children at a school in South Wales by a drama teacher John Owen.

The report by Peter Clarke, the Children's Commissioner in Wales, described how Owen, who committed suicide in 2001, used drama at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen as a "vehicle for improper activity with children", by the consistent introduction of sexual themes into texts, practicals and practical exams".

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, is being urged to add examination boards to the list of bodies required to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Mr Clarke found that the WJEC exam board's attitude towards child protection procedures was "complacent and dangerous" after it failed to take action when five examiners complained about the sexually explicit and obscene material used by Owen's students.

Peter Black, Liberal Democrat education spokesman in Wales, said the outcome of the report illustrated the importance of the role of the Children's Commissioner for Wales and should have far-reaching consequences. "It is now very important that we stress to the UK government that the implications of this report for child protection is a matter not just for Wales but for the whole country," he said.

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