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Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for helping me out.

Child protection agencies say that smacking is often a result of loss of control by the adult. Children in Wales has concrete evidence of injuries to very young children where parents have felt justified in their actions because the defence of reasonable chastisement exists. By not removing that defence completely, we will feed into that justification.

I am also very concerned about clause 56, which should be removed. It allows parents to justify common assault as reasonable punishment; the message is, as the "Children are Unbeatable!" briefing tells us, "Carry on smacking."Many people have expressed concern about parents being criminalised, but as has been pointed out, the new clause is not about that; rather, it is about giving parents support and help with positive parenting. If it were accepted, it would be accompanied by a great deal of help, education and support; it cannot be introduced by itself overnight. There would be a change in climate and we would do all that we could to help and support parents. The message would be clear and the Government would be giving a clear lead on what is acceptable.

At the heart of all this is the question, "What is in the child's best interest?" and taking a parent to court will almost always not be in their best interest. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) said that in Germany, where smacking was outlawed in 2000, it appears that no parents have been prosecuted since then. Early research suggests that there has already been a major shift in public opinion away from physical punishment. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) drew our attention to Sweden, where public opinion has changed. A Government have to lead, and the evidence from other countries shows that on this issue, public opinion has followed.

This issue is also important for all those present who campaigned against domestic violence. When we campaigned in the 1970s, we were told that such legislation would be unworkable and that in any case, "She must have done something to deserve it." In the early days of Women's Aid, domestic violence was considered a trivial issue and we had to campaign to get it up the political agenda. Of course, there was also the question of not interfering in family life.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend. Does she agree that given that we have achieved zero tolerance of violence against women, children deserve the same?

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Our long experience of domestic violence issues has led us to a position of zero tolerance, and I am proud of the fact that only last week our Government introduced legislation on domestic violence.

David Taylor: Linking this issue back to the point made by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), is it not true that children who are smacked and subjected to violence at home are much more likely to be aggressive towards their siblings, to bully other children, to get involved in antisocial behaviour, to be violent to their future spouses and to commit violent crime?
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Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I certainly agree with him.

Many of the arguments against the new clause that we have heard today we have been through before in other surroundings. Some people say that smacking does no harm, but there is evidence that it does. We are also told that such a provision would be unworkable.

Mrs. Betty Williams: Is my hon. Friend aware of the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on clause 56? It says that the clause "perpetuates the current uncertainty" about what constitutes reasonable chastisement, and that as such, rather than reducing unfair and unnecessary prosecutions, as the Government suggest, it will simply encourage them.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I agree.

We have an opportunity to increase protection for children. It is up to us to take a lead in this field, to think of the many children who have died at the hands of parents or carers, and to think of the step that we can take today to help to protect them in future.

Miss Kirkbride: I shall be very brief. Following on from the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), I should point out that those who support the new clause have not explained how banning the smacking of children and criminalising all parents will lead to a change in the number of tragic deaths of young children in the UK. There is simply no basis for the connection that has been made. People who are wicked enough to want to kill or sexually abuse a defenceless child are, in my opinion, beyond the realms of the law. No modest measure to say that all parents should not smack their children will influence their behaviour in any way. The case has not been made.

I would not want to smack my child, but I do not want to criminalise other parents who might believe that it is an appropriate way of dealing with their children. I ask Members to think about circumstances in a supermarket, for example, where a parent smacks a child who has just destroyed a display. What are the staff supposed to do—bring in the police, corral the parents or what? What will happen if a child is upset about being smacked in the home and calls the police? They often do not turn up for a burglary, so are they to turn up because a child has protested about being smacked by their parent? It makes a nonsense of the law and I implore hon. Members to vote against the proposals of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe).

Tim Loughton: We have had an interesting debate and it is good to see the Chamber so full. What a shame that it was less full earlier for other parts of the Bill with equally important provisions.

As the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) said, this is a highly contentious issue. The fact is that we are all here because we care about children and none of us—whichever side of the argument we stand on smacking—wants to bring about more harm to children than already exists. All those who have supported the Children Bill want tougher measures against the perpetrators of violence, such as that against Victoria Climbié, and let us not forget the other 80 children a
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year on average who are harmed by it. More importantly, we want to prevent violence from happening in the first place and give protection and better life chances to looked-after children. We want to do all of that with as little intrusion as possible into the private lives of decent, hard-working, loving families.

This part of the Bill is a mess. I remind hon. Members that provisions on smacking were not in the original Bill and it is a shame that the issue has overshadowed coverage of the many important parts of this important Bill. In the Lords, the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Lester, cobbled together this amendment to criminalise smacking, despite his own party's policy, which is to criminalise it altogether. In the Commons, the Liberal Democrats supported a motion and will be whipped to defeat the amendment of their fellow Liberal Democrat peer. Labour peers were allowed a free vote in the House of Lords as long as it was to vote against the outright ban amendment.

History is repeating itself in the Commons tonight. Here we have three choices. The first is to retain the Lester fudge or "middle way" amendment—

Mr. Heath rose—

Tim Loughton: I will not give way because I do not have time.

The second option is to vote for the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Wakefield in favour of an outright ban. The third is to vote for the Isle of Wight amendment to return to the status quo. Only Conservative Members will decide the issue on the basis of a genuinely free vote this evening.

We already have a good child protection record in this country, despite some high-profile cases. According to the UNICEF figures provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), we compare favourably in respect of the number of child deaths to other European countries, particularly Sweden. I am appalled at some of the speeches made in the debate and at some of the comments made outside the House, which suggest that a parent who in extremis smacks his or her child is only one step away from becoming a child abuser or killer—another Victoria Climbié case. That argument does not strengthen the case.

The Children Bill is designed to improve the protection of children yet further. There is no research to prove the causal link between moderate smacking administered by loving parents and violent effects on children. Suggesting otherwise is insulting to decent families trying to bring up their children in difficult circumstances.

As the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said when he was a Health Minister,

Are we seriously suggesting that some parents get up each morning and pledge systematically to smack their child at least six times that day? It just does not happen like that.

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