Children: Reasonable Chastisement

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 13 February 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills 2:45, 13 February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to amend the law on reasonable chastisement of children in the light of the recent statement from the Commissioners for Children and Young People for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, this matter was thoroughly debated during the passage of the Children Act 2004, when the House agreed to Section 58, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. It was agreed by 226 votes to 91 on a free vote. The Government gave a commitment that in 2007 we would review Section 58 and seek parents' views. My noble friend Lord Rooker proposes later this year to replicate Section 58 of the Act in Northern Ireland.

M

The word 'reasonable' sounds quite reasonable, doesn't it? The question of hitting a child, which I believe is at the very least a violation of that child's being - seems to me less significant than the very hands-on message that it is OK to inflict physical...

Submitted by Michael Mallows Continue reading

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but will he confirm that the Government do not condone physical punishment of children, as it denies them their right to human dignity, is thoroughly unsafe, does not work and teaches a lesson in bad behaviour? If so, why do the Government try to draw lines in the law based on the questionable assumption that parents know the difference between so-called smacking and criminal violence? With that in mind, will the Minister enlighten me and the House about the precise force and velocity required to hit a child without causing a bruise, for I am at a loss as, like most people, I am not an expert on physical violence?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, the matters were thoroughly debated, and the House was satisfied with the position that we reached. In particular, the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was that the section that we put forward was,

"a proportionate response to the pressing social need to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse".—[Hansard, 5/7/04; col. 527.]

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, why are the Government so obstinate in this matter? The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Committee of Social Rights, all the experts on children and, indeed, all the children's associations are against smacking children. Who are the Government trying to please?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, we are trying to please Parliament, if that is any consolation to my noble friend. The House voted by an overwhelming margin in favour of the legislation as it stands. I stress that the other place voted by an even larger margin—424 votes to 75 votes—in favour of that position. So we are in accord with the will of Parliament in the matter.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, I have huge admiration for the English Children's Commissioner, Professor Al Aynsley-Green, but it is wrong to confuse the imposition of discipline with violence inflicted on children. Even the Joint Committee on Human Rights stated in 2003 that if it were thought that,

"removal of the reasonable chastisement defence would lead to parents being prosecuted for mild smacks, the measure would probably fail to command public . . . support".

Does the Minister not agree that over the years we have seen a gradual shift away from parents using physical punishment and that a move to criminalise parents for disciplining their children would be counter-productive?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Baroness said. I note that the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that,

"There is no present incompatibility between UK law and the rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child".

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip

My Lords, in what circumstances can the Children's Commissioner for any of the countries involved enter a private home to see whether a child is being ill treated? What permission does the Children's Commissioner need?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I am not aware that the Children's Commissioner has any right to enter a private home, but if I am incorrect in that belief I shall let the noble Lord know.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend and the Government advocate or condone the physical punishment of children?

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, although opinions may be expressed by experts—certainly Parliament has expressed its view—British families recognise the difference between brutality and smacking for discipline purposes and that the vast majority of parents smack but do not brutalise their children?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, views of that kind were precisely those that led the House to reach the judgment that it did only 18 months ago.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Crossbench

My Lords, might the Children's Commissioners be encouraged to use their important posts to promote positive parenting rather than to promote the idea of putting parents in danger of being criminalised?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, Professor Aynsley-Green and his colleagues are well aware of the importance of promoting positive parenting. A good deal of their work is geared to that end, in conjunction with the Government, and we are investing heavily in programmes to support and help parents.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, in an earlier answer, the noble Lord mentioned the JCHR. Is he aware that its comments referred to a particular case? Is he also aware that it said in its report that it was likely that in any future case the court would find that anything less than equal protection for children was in breach of the European convention?