Should the Lib Dems support a total ban on smacking?

by Stephen Tall on June 16, 2007

That’s the call from Annette Brooke MP, Lib Dem Children and Young Persons Spokesperson, after the Labour Government announced a policy review:

“There needs to be a clear signal that physical punishment is counter-productive and damaging. Children that are hit are more likely to hit others and are more likely to be bullies. If it is wrong to hit an adult, it is wrong to hit a child – children deserve equal protection. There should be a total ban accompanied by supportive measures for parents, so that they can find different ways to change their children’s behaviour.”

What do Lib Dem Voice readers think? Is this the nanny-state gone PC-mad? Or a long-overdue attempt to prevent casual violence?

My view? Smacking should always be a last resort. There are nearly always better ways of chastising a child. But the government has absolutely no right to undermine parents’ right to decide how best to bring up their kids.

There is the world of difference between a smack administered within a loving environment, and wilful cruelty that scars mentally and physically. Liberals, above all, should recognise that fact rather than supporting blanket unenforeable bans which treat both cases the same.

(Declaration of interest: I can remember being smacked twice as a child. I have lived to tell the tale.)

Enjoy reading this? Please like and share:


Making a law to send a signal is a scourge of our time.

Are we going to ban every mistake that might be made in child-raising? Failure to read bedtime stories? Does enormous damage you know.

by Joe Otten on June 16, 2007 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

It is illegal to hit adults; it is difficult to see why the law should make an exception for the parent/child relationship- since many children are brought up without it is clearly not necessary. Children should have rights of their own, and be somewhat more than an adjunct to their parents.

by Tinter on June 16, 2007 at 3:08 pm. Reply #

Exectly the sort of horrible, illiberal, knee-jerk reaction I’ve come to expect from this Labour government.

How you discipline a child is an unquestionably moral decision and the law shouldn’t be allowed within a country mile of it.

I do feel that smacking is totally counterproductive – but one of the reasons I joined this party is that I believe people should be allowed to make their own mistakes…

by Joe Taylor on June 16, 2007 at 3:26 pm. Reply #

A quick smack within a loving family is a lot more productive than trying to reason with a young child who is not yet capable of a reasoned arguement. I think I was smacked two or 3 times. Once was when I went home and moaned about getting the cane in school. I was told that my teacher wouldnt have needed to cane me if I had obeyed the rules (true) and I’d better learn to take my punishment then I might learn not to do things that got you punished! I decided that whining didn’t pay!
I didn’t resent being smacked, it did no lasting harm and I lived to tell the tale.
This Govt meddles where it isn’t needed but fails on the big jobs!

by Fran Oborski on June 16, 2007 at 3:53 pm. Reply #

If I hear much more defence of smacking here, I might just change camps.

Smacking teaches big lessons: use force to get what you want, and hurt those you love. Smacking outside of a loving family would be rather better.

I remember a boy at my daughter’s toddler group. He liked her and wanted to play with her, but every now and then he would just hit her or push her over. Then I discovered he was a smackee. Explained everything.

by Joe Otten on June 16, 2007 at 4:45 pm. Reply #

The law here unfortunately is just too clumsy a weapon to use. Smacking does harm a minority of children, I have known one or two people my own age who, although they were never physically bruised, were seriously emotionally hurt and bullied by their parents’ smacking. The questin people sould be asking is, no whether smacking should be banned, but how do we stop bullying and irresponsible parenting (if such a thing is possible) and what we can do to encourage better parenting. At the moment this is just giving ammunition to the biggoted right.

by a radical writes on June 16, 2007 at 7:05 pm. Reply #

exuse my poor spelling in the above.

by a radical writes on June 16, 2007 at 7:06 pm. Reply #

We don’t need another law. As you say Stephen, there’s a world of difference between using a smack as a last resort within a loving family – and being a cruel parent.

There are much more important issues ….

by Chris Black on June 16, 2007 at 10:15 pm. Reply #

what about a partial ban on total smacking…?

by meiriongwril on June 16, 2007 at 10:50 pm. Reply #

You don’t need to smack your child to discipline them. As a parent you have plenty of effective methods to discipline your child. It is only a pity that more isn’t done to educate parents. I was certainly a big fan of the BBC3 programme “House of Tiny Tearaways”.

Would I go for an outright ban though? No. Ultimately it should be up to parents how they discipline their children, not the state. The state should only intervene when the line between disciplining and abuse is crossed.

by Toby Philpott on June 16, 2007 at 10:51 pm. Reply #

A smack is not about pain or injury, but often the only way to get the attention of a hysterical child. We need more individual freedom and responsibility in this country and less legislation and government interference. We Lib Dems should not be getting involved with this.

by Moggy on June 17, 2007 at 12:29 am. Reply #

The law is a blunt instrument, but that does not mean it should not be used.
The difficulty is that we take our own personal experience and generalise it for everyone.
So as Fran has mentioned, smacking can work and it appears to have done so in her case.
However other people have a different personal experience of this kind of discipline, which does amount to abuse and does more harm than good. It is not deliberate abuse – which is against the existing law, but as the smacking gets harder it turns into abuse.
It is hard for a law to draw a line between smacking that “works” in the case of Fran, and smacking that is abuse.
We should also have consideration for parents who are desperate to control their children so that they do not get into drugs or criminal behavior, but do not have the authority over their children to acheive this.
My instincts as a Liberal is to support the human rights of children and support a ban. But I haven’t made up my mind for sure, the issue is a difficult one.

by Geoffrey Payne on June 17, 2007 at 11:20 am. Reply #

Smacking per se is not bad.

Abuse is.
Abuse is already illegal.

I was smacked as a child, often is was simply a reinforcement mechanism – do something dangerous or wrong and I got told not to do it. If I continue then I got told no again. If I then continued I’d get a slap.
Then my parents would make sure I knew they loved me and they didn’t like to do it.

From a political point of view – this would be suicide. It would reinforce people’s view of us as a nannying, leftist, interfering party which is anything but liberal.

by Tristan Mills on June 18, 2007 at 4:48 pm. Reply #

It is very important to distinguish between physical “abuse” and “chastisement” as local authority child protection teams, as well as the police currently do. It seems quite unfair and not objective to assume that “physical chastisement” is the same as “abuse”. Physical chastisement is permitted by English law (childrens Act) and I would urge everyone to look at proper balanced research surrounding this issue before jumping to any wrong conclusions. To do otherwise would be to take away liberties and criminalise parents. We need to question the soundbites with facts – as there is “no” evidence to show that “physical chastisement” harms children. In fact, finding of the British Psychological Society (2005), Robert Larzelere, Diana Baumrind and Paolucci & Violato (2004) evidence that there are positive outcomes “Conditional smacking was more strongly associated with reductions in non-compliance or antisocial behaviour than ten of thirteen other disciplinary tactics.” I was smacked as a child but it was in the context of secure and loving home and this taught me about boundaries and consequences and I would appeal to government ministers – to not just listen to the anti-smacking lobbyists but to listen to parents and encourage a ‘balanced’ debate on this issue.

by David Bowen on March 10, 2008 at 9:54 am. Reply #

I agree with David Bowen, all the studies and reports that I have read indicate there are benefits to “physical chastisement” as he says.

We’d be better off not creating loads of nanny laws but giving parents easy and affordable (or better yet free) access to resources, teaching and guidance on parenting, maybe with regular reviews and refreshers for each stage of childhood, and providing incentives for them to make use of them.

by MartinSGill on March 10, 2008 at 11:18 am. Reply #

I don’t think it does any harm smacking children if their naughty. My dad use to and it was not some thing I tresnted then or now (I am 19).

my mama didn’t like it and if they had the cane in school she would have gone to complain. My dad said he wouldn’t of done!


by Glyn Rowlands on December 20, 2008 at 2:07 pm. Reply #

I seem, entirely by accident, to have assumed a rather odd role in the affairs of LDV. Every so often, someone poses the question “Should the Liberal Democrats do X?”, and it falls to me to point out that Conference has already decided to do X or, occasionally, to stop doing X and do Y instead.

In regard to the present thread, Conference voted in September 2003 as follows:

“Conference therefore calls on the Government to: (1) Introduce legislation to remove the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence and thus give children equal protection under the law on assault ….”

As far as I know, this motion has not been superseded.

by Paul Griffiths on December 20, 2008 at 3:05 pm. Reply #

I second pretty much everything Joe O said.

by Julian H on December 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm. Reply #

Leave your comment


Required. Not published.

If you have one.