» Monday, July 5, 2004


Questioned about the Government’s policy on smacking, the PMOS said that the Government wanted to see an outcome which would maintain the balance between a parent’s right to discipline their child and the protection of that child. We did not want to criminalise parents, which was why we had always been opposed to an outright ban on smacking. Nevertheless, we would be interested to see any other proposals to deal with this issue that were put forward. We were willing to have a free vote on Lord Lester’s amendment. We would wait and see what the outcome of that might be. Asked why the Government was allowing a free vote if it had thought through its position carefully, the PMOS pointed out that there was a difference between an outright ban on smacking and Lord Lester’s proposal which, as we understood it, would not criminalise parents for smacking their children, but would restrict the use of defence of reasonable chastisement in court.

Asked if a ban on smacking was inevitable in the light of European legislation on this issue, the PMOS repeated that the Government was opposed to such a ban. We recognised the primary importance of protecting children. At the same time, however, we continued to maintain the position that protected the right of a parent to smack their own child. Other countries might have different rules. That was a matter for them. The British Government had set out its position for this country.

Asked for a reaction to comments by the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Ken Macdonald, who had told a Parliamentary Committee recently that a total ban on smacking would not necessarily criminalise parents and lead to prosecutions, the PMOS said that since he hadn’t seen the remarks in question, he did not think it would helpful to comment directly on them. That said, the Government was opposed to a total ban and, indeed, anything that we believed could be interpreted as such. Put to him that those in favour of a ban obviously wanted to send a clear signal that smacking was bad, whereas the position which the Government had adopted would seem to indicate the opposite, the PMOS said the Government wanted to send a clear signal that parents had the right to discipline their children. At the same time, however, it was necessary to ensure that the children themselves were protected. In the Government’s view, it was important to strike the right balance. Put to him that if a small group of people were saying that smacking was bad, it would follow that the Government’s position on the issue was ambiguous at best and that public support would therefore be directed towards the former group, the PMOS said that he would disagree with the analysis which had been presented. In our view, people made the distinction between reasonable discipline and hurting children. In the Government’s opinion, therefore, that distinction should be maintained by striking the right balance on this issue. Put to him that the reality of the situation was that it was all about sending the right signals and that the Government must be fearing the consequences were smacking to be outlawed, the PMOS repeated the point that we feared an outright ban would criminalise parents for disciplining their children. In our view, that was not right. Asked what signal the Government was hoping to send to people by adopting its ‘middle way’ position on the issue, the PMOS said we believed that parents would recognise the distinction between discipline – which was right – and hurting children – which was wrong. Questioned as to how a smack could be defined as disciplining or hurting the child, the PMOS said that that would be a matter for the courts to interpret. It was a not dissimilar situation to many legal distinctions which had to be made.

Asked for a reaction to the suggestion that the Government was ‘micro-managing’ people’s lives, the PMOS said that our primary concern was to get the balance right. It was precisely that which was shaping our policy. Put to him that the Government could easily ensure that any legislation would not criminalise parents for reasonable chastisement, the PMOS repeated that the Government believed its position struck the right balance. That was why we were discussing the issue and would allow a free vote on Lord Lester’s amendment.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. Who decides what is and whats not reasonable Chstisment? Is a smack across the face to an 8 year old child reasonable chastisment? Or a punch in the stomach? Who makes these decisions? Why is there no list or guildlines of what is apropriate behaviour? This makes it very hard to understand. Who has the right to make this dicisions.

    Comment by Jaye Williams — 18 Nov 2005 on 6:23 pm | Link

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