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Mr. Robathan: Does my hon. Friend agree that even if no one is charged, the police or some social worker—[Hon. Members: "Some social worker?"] I am glad that Labour Members find it so amusing, but aiming to criminalise millions of people is a serious matter. The police or a social worker, who know neither the parents nor the child, will come to interview them and drive a wedge between them.

Mr. Turner: I would be surprised if they did not; and better authorities than I have said that such interviews cause trauma within families.

The Attorney-General has stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions intends to revise his guidelines to make it more likely that people will be prosecuted for actual bodily harm than for assault, although that means that they will not have the defence of reasonable chastisement. He said:

among other things—"minor bruising" or

As if that were not bad enough, the guidelines apply only to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, not to other prosecuting authorities or private individuals. That will lead to greater confusion among parents about how they are permitted to discipline their children. The CPS and the police might say one thing, but a private prosecution, perhaps backed by a militant anti-smacking lobby, might say something different.

I echo the view of the hon. Member for Wakefield that clause 56 is a muddle and makes the law more, rather than less, complicated. The division of opinion in the House is very clear: it is between abolishing smacking altogether and retaining the current reasonable chastisement defence.

5.15 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I speak in support of amendment No. 39, tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) and other hon. Members.

My journey on this issue reflects that of any other parent, I suspect, and of many members of the public. I have no great expertise in the matter, as some hon. Members do. The only expertise that I bring to the debate comes from my becoming the father of three children within three years—I have expertise in running myself ragged trying to keep up with their high levels of energy.

My journey on this issue has changed substantially. At one stage, I was completely opposed to the idea of any further controls or of a ban on smacking. Now, I feel that the mood of public opinion is moving firmly in the direction not only of greater controls but, eventually, a total ban. I also feel that that is probably
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the right thing to do. However, I have a degree of uncertainty about this because, as a parent, I am not yet wholly convinced, although I am nearly there.

Clause 56 is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but I recognise that it is a step in the right direction. It lacks simplicity and it is open to legal interpretation. It also lacks elegance, but so does much of our current law. If a ban is the right way forward— I am inclined to that way of thinking, but it is a big "if" in the public's mind at the moment—but the Government do not feel ready to introduce a ban today, let them at least commit themselves to a full, fundamental review two years after the commencement of the Bill, which has so many good things in it. Let them bring this issue back to the House so that we can debate it in full and consider the implications.

Mr. Dawson: Does my hon. Friend accept that all of us who propose a complete ban—now—on the physical punishment of children would very much want it to be developed in the context of parental support, parental education and parental information? There would be no question of simply imposing something without a great deal of work being done with parents.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. His point is well made and he will see that I shall cover that issue later. He will be aware of the well-known saying in politics that we cannot lead unless, when we look over our shoulder, people are still following. One of the problems that the Government face is that there is not a great big crowd in favour of a ban. People are following that route in increasing numbers, but they are not all there yet. I include myself among those who are not yet there, because I still have some doubts.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): On that issue, may I point out to my hon. Friend that when the Swedish Government took the decision that parents should not smack their children, most people there were against it? However, a survey was carried out a couple of years ago, after the ban had been in place for quite a few years, and only 6 per cent. of people wanted the right to smack their children. So let us take this step now, educate now, and get on with the process of improving the lives of our children.

Huw Irranca-Davies: One Labour Member has already remarked on the fact that this is an historic occasion. I agree, but it is not the only occasion. I know that my hon. Friend holds strong fundamental and principled views on this matter, which might well be right—that is what I am saying—but this should not be the only occasion on which we can revisit the issue. That is why I strongly support the amendment under which we would review the matter in full once we have seen whether clause 56 works. If it has not worked, we will have to go forward from that point.

Such a review would not be based only on international comparators—we have those already. It is a question not of what works in Sweden or other European countries, but of what will work in this country, with our historical attitudes, our parenting culture and our legal system. I for one would urge the Government to move ahead with the Bill because it
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contains so many good things for children. However, they should come back to the House, not lock the door on us, and give us the opportunity to debate this issue once again. While this might be a historic moment, it is not the one and only and we deserve another opportunity to review public opinion, parental opinion and Back-Bench opinion in two years' time.

Mr. Robathan : I wish to speak to the new clause and amendment No. 23. I hope that the House will divide on amendment No. 23 when it gets the opportunity.

I introduced a private Member's Bill four years ago, which I recall the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) opposed. I therefore re-examined my notes. I recall that in 1993, a judge had before him a mother of two appealing against a conviction for assault. She had spanked her child with a slipper having caught the child stealing. One may or may not agree with that, but she was convicted of assault—for those who say that people do not get charged and convicted, that is one case. The judge quashed the conviction, saying:

I do not know whether the judge is still alive, but I suspect that he will think that many in the House are indeed going barking mad—[Interruption.] If there are Members who would like to leave the Chamber, they should do that instead of nattering.

A parent who harms a child should of course be charged and prosecuted. Many are not. Does anyone really believe that passing this law will mean that more parents who harm children will be prosecuted? I suspect that that will not be the case.

Mr. Dawson: Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that the proponents of a complete ban are trying to argue for a cultural change whereby the physical punishment or over-chastisement of children simply becomes unacceptable?

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman will know that I like and respect him, but that does not mean that I agree with him.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) and others can bring up their children without smacking them. I think that that is marvellous. I have two small children to whom I am devoted—I love them more than anything else in the world. Very occasionally, I smack them; much more often, I threaten them with it. Funnily enough, it works rather well.

I will talk briefly about violence in society. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) said that violence begets violence. Apparently, we now have 1 million violent crimes a year on our streets, children are carrying knives in schools and using them, teachers are being attacked in schools more and more often, and teachers tell me that when they try to remonstrate with children, they say, "You can't touch me." When we debated getting rid of corporal punishment in schools, we were told that it would mean less violence in schools. In fact, there is more. Members should therefore ask their constituents whether they think that the drive towards removing violence—
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smacking children and corporal punishment—has achieved much.

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