PM rejects fresh calls by doctors’ group to ban smacking in NI and England

Fresh calls to ban smacking by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have been rejected by the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

RCPCH issued a new report claiming current smacking laws in England and Northern Ireland are “unjust and dangerously vague” and called for a complete ban.

Asked if the Prime Minister thinks a smacking ban is needed, his spokesman responded: “I think the PM would say that the law in England strikes the right balance between protecting children and maintaining the responsibility of parents to discipline their children appropriately and obviously within the boundaries of the existing law.

“Clearly any form of violence towards a child is completely unacceptable but we already have clear laws in place to prevent that.” 

Be Reasonable’s Simon Calvert maintained that calls for a smacking ban “are motivated by ideology, not by clinical evidence”.

He added: “The current law strongly prohibits all violence against children, while protecting parents from prosecution for innocent and harmless parenting decisions.

“The reasonable chastisement defence is, by definition, limited to actions a court deems reasonable.”

Mr Calvert explained to BBC Radio 2 that the RCPCH report was not about science, but it was an advocacy report.

He warned that banning smacking is about criminalising parents. Campaigners in Scotland repeatedly denied this, but ahead of the ban coming into force, the Scottish Government issued guidance telling the public to phone 999 and report a crime if they saw a parent smacking their child.

Mr Calvert reminded listeners that abuse is already illegal. He said: “The reasonable chastisement defence only protects parents who do reasonable things. If a child is abused, if you do anything to a child which leaves any kind of mark whatsoever, that’s unreasonable chastisement and it is already illegal. So this is at the lowest possible level, a mum tapping the tot on the back of a hand”.

A spokesman for the Department for Education in Westminster said: “Any form of violence towards a child is completely unacceptable and we have clear laws in place to prevent it. 

“It is the responsibility of the parent to discipline their children, appropriately and within the boundaries of the law.”

Bess Herbert, of campaign group End Corporal Punishment, tried to argue that calls to ban smacking were based on “science”.

She claimed that “there are hundreds of studies from across the world involving hundreds of thousands of children” and added “the science is absolutely settled on the harms of physical punishment”.

But closer inspection of these so-called scientific reports reveals an abundance of issues which discredit the findings.

Different definitions of smacking are frequently used, with some studies conflating reasonable chastisement with actions which would clearly be unreasonable and already illegal.

The studies often fail to consider other factors which could impact a child’s development. And the sample groups used within the studies are not always representative of wider society.

Smacking studies also often fail to consider ‘cause and effect’. Or as the scientists put it: “correlation does not equal causation”.

Perhaps those calling for a smacking ban think that the rules of scientific research do not apply to them. It is a pity the RCPCH has allowed its name to be put on such a flimsy and ideologically driven report.

Children are protected by strong legislation in England and Northern Ireland – it is good and right that these laws are fully applied in tackling genuine abuse. The police and social services should not have their time and resources wasted on trivial accusations against loving parents.