UK ANTI-SMACKING BILL DEBATE
Following Tuesday's (2 November) House of Commons debate, David Hinchliffe's amendment to criminalize smacking was defeated by 424 to 75, and Andrew Turner's amendment to keep the law as it is was defeated by 284 to 208.
This leaves us with the legal uncertainty of Lord Lester's amendment and the government's commitment to review its impact after two years.
The meaning of the new law, which will come into effect early in 2005, is far from clear. To some extent its impact will depend on the changes that are being made to the charging standards by the Director of Public Prosecutions. But even after he has issued his guidance, a considerable degree of legal uncertainty is likely to remain.
We were pleased to see several MPs drawing on briefing material we had sent them and even to hear some of our words being quoted verbatim. It was also good to see some of the accepted orthodoxies about Sweden being challenged on the floor of the House of Commons.
David Hinchliffe MP, the prime mover of the amendment to ban smacking, was clearly rattled on the BBC2 'Daily Politics' programme when the truth about Sweden's rate of child maltreatment deaths was presented by Lynette Burrows.
Even though Mrs Burrows was citing Unicef figures (no supporters of smacking!), Mr Hinchliffe initially accused her of bringing up statistics from an American academic that were fundamentally flawed. Then he claimed she was merely representing the views of a 'right-wing fundamentalist group'.
When the presenter made the point that three times as many children are taken into care in Sweden compared with the UK, he responded, 'At least they're still alive'. The presenter picked him up on this, pointing out that it had already been established that the child maltreatment death rate in Sweden was at a comparable level with the UK. Since Mr Hinchliffe could hardly accuse the presenter of being a right wing fundamentalist too, he tried to change the subject: 'Why are we always going on about Sweden? There are twelve countries that have banned smacking. Why don't we talk about Romania, about Germany, about Denmark...?'
A strange turnaround indeed! In the past, the anti-smacking lobby has been only too keen to talk about Sweden and have painted a utopian picture. When the truth emerges, they suddenly don't want to talk about Sweden any more!
During the same television interview, Mr Hinchliffe referred to his 30-minute meeting with the Prime Minister on Monday evening. Mr Blair had told him that a ban on smacking would be 'a notch too far at this stage'. However, Mr Hinchliffe claimed that Mr Blair recognized that public opinion was changing and that things had moved on. He got the distinct impression from the Prime Minister that 'two or three years down the line, the situation will be very different'. Mr Hinchliffe was confident that 'He will be relaxed in a couple of years time - after a General Election - for this to go through.'
Even if we make allowances for a degree of spin on Mr Hinchliffe's part, this is clearly not an issue that will go away.
While we are thankful for the scale of the defeat suffered by David Hinchliffe's amendment on Tuesday, we are conscious that Lord Lester's amendment is far from ideal and there will be further battles ahead. We shall need to be vigilant regarding the possible impact of the new legislation and remain constant in prayer for the protection of children and families in our land.
The written report of Tuesday's debate may be found at:
It is also now possible to watch the 90-minute debate at:
http://www.parliamentlive.tv/ (select 'Archive', 2 November to 2 November, House of Commons. The debate on reasonable chastisement commences just under 5 hours into the day's proceedings - 4 hours 58 minutes to be precise!)
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