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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In the instance that the hon. Gentleman, who is my near parliamentary neighbour, has given, is it not just as likely that increased violence between young people and by young people arises from the violence of the background that they may experience in their home, rather than from a lack of chastisement in school?
Mr. Robathan: I do not think that the evidence bears that out. I would say that the rise in violence is much more related to the drivel coming out of our television and video screens, but that is another matter for another debate at a later time.
Who cares more? Is it parents, is it social workers, is it the police or is it legislators? As a parent, I know who cares more: I care more. I suspect that if other Members ask their constituents who are parents the same question, they will hear the same answer.
Mr. Robathan: On that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is quite right that some parents do not care. The question is whether abolishing all smacking will make them care more. I rather doubt it.
Mr. Robathan: I will indeed apologise to the hon. Gentleman, although I do not like people preaching to others. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, and I might even buy him a drink afterwards. Perhaps it is to do with the excitement of the occasion.
Most loving parents are trying their best in very difficult circumstances and many do raise children with no smacking at all. I remember my brother telling me that he had no problem in this regard; perhaps it is only others who dobut how dare anyone tell loving parents, "We know best"?
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con):
My hon. Friend will know from his constituency experienceas will all Membersof the belief among our constituents that public authorities and the ruling elites, who are well
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represented on the Labour Benches, are not on their side. Is this not the key question? If the law is changed tonight, are our constituents more or less likely to believe that the ruling elites and the public authorities are on their side?
Mr. Robathan: That is an excellent point. We are talking about introducing the police and social services into the relationship between a child and his or her parents. At the very least, an interview with a police officer will cause some friction and tension between parents and children. At worst, it will leadas it often hasto a child being taken into care.
There was a man called Frank Beck who ran care homes in Leicestershire. We should all know about the horror stories that emerged from those homes. Most social workers are trying their best in difficult circumstances and some are outstanding, but we know that not all of them are.
Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South) (Lab): At the heart of these proposals is the fact that every week more than one child in this country dies as a result of parental physical abuse. We are not asking whether people in this country love their children more or less than those elsewhere in the world. The fact is that in Sweden, where smacking has been banned, no child has died as a result of parental physical abuse. What we are arguing about, surely, is how to prevent unnecessary and tragic deaths.
Mr. Robathan: I am not sure that banning smacking will lead to any more convictions of parents who abuse their children in this country. I understand that in Sweden smacking was abolished in 1979. Between 1981 and 1994 there was a fivefold increase in the number of child abuse cases and child-on-child assaults, which is interesting; but, more to the point, UNICEF states that the average number of deaths per 100,000 children over the past five years in Sweden is much greater than the United Kingdom average. We should go back to the statistics.
I want to see a society where children are well disciplined. Part of self-discipline is being taught discipline by one's parents. I hope that that does not need smacking, but sometimes it does. Those who will vote to ban smacking are showing an extraordinary arrogance in saying, "I know best. I know better than loving parents." As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) said, that shows a detachment from people in this country. We do not know better than most parents. We should not pretend that we do. Most parents can look after their children much better without the interference of legislators, the police or social services.
I support new clause 12. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) has gone into many of the detailed arguments for the new clause. It is important that the law sends a clear message that hitting, smacking or any form of physical
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punishment by an adult to a child, who is smaller, weaker and vulnerable, is not acceptable. Hitting a child is humiliating for the child and for the adult involved.
I have looked into research that has been conducted in Wales by Save the Children about how children feel about being smacked. That research clearly shows that children do not view smacks as trivial and that the effects of a smack are deeply felt. They associate smacking with angry parents. Some of the older children said that they felt that the adults felt regret after they smacked a child. Children said that smacking usually takes place in the house and in other areas where no one can see. They felt that adults were ashamed of smacking their children.
Peter Clarke, the Children's Commissioner for Wales, says that young people have complained to him that they do not have the respect of adults. That is one of his main findings in the reports that have been published and the discussions that he has had with children since he became the commissioner. They feel that the main reason that they do not have such respect is that adults are allowed to hit them. As Peter Clarke said in his letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, urging him to support new clause 12:
"As long as the smallest and most vulnerable members of society have less protection from assault than adults, the Government's position is at odds with the title of the Green Paper 'Every Child Matters'."
Children should be afforded the same protection under the law as adults. It is unjust for one human being to be treated differently under the law on the basis of age alone. Children in Wales, the national umbrella organisation for children and young people, does not accept that smacks are mostly loving. It seems a contradiction in terms to say, "You can have a loving smack."
Mr. Heath: I would like to see a ban on abusive violence but am yet to be persuaded by new clause 12. Can the hon. Lady explain why subsection (2) introduces a new defence, which is available to people for smacking their children under certain circumstances? That seems to be out of kilter with the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) in introducing the new clause.
Subsection (2) takes account of the concern that we should not take action where, as I mentioned in my speech, a parent may be faced with a child consistently running into the road. I have done this with one of my children and I accept that I did it because I was concerned about danger. There will be exemptions. The law would not take action in such circumstances. Surely that is a common-sense approach.
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