In the House of Lords today a bishop will introduce measures which would make the smacking of children illegal.
Kenneth Stevenson, the Bishop of Portsmouth, and a cross-party group of peers, including Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a crossbencher and former family doctor, have tabled a new clause to the Children Bill to remove the legal defence of "reasonable chastisement" which allows parents to smack their children. It would ban any form of corporal punishment.
Last year moves to stop parents smacking their children received the backing from MPs on two influential committees.
A spokesman for the Children are Unbeatable Alliance, an umbrella group of charities, said: "The purpose of this is to give children equal protection under the law on battery and assault, while not interfering with parents' necessary rights to use reasonable force to protect and restrain their children and to punish their children in non-violent ways. The new clause does not create a new offence."
Ministers will resist the move today but Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, has hinted that he is preparing a compromise that would remove a legal defence of smacking without imposing a total ban when the Bill reaches the Commons.
David Hinchliffe, the Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Health, who has championed the case for a ban on smacking by parents, said: "We want a free vote when the Bill comes to the Commons. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child would require the Government to remove this defence in law. Ministers are also required to move because of judgments in the European Court. It is time Parliament acted to stop this happening in our society."
In 2002 a case proposed in the Court of Appeal that corporal punishment was a "biblical doctrine". Forty schools, spearheaded by the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, wanted to change in the law to allow them to use corporal punishment. The suggestion that smacking was a biblical doctrine was however publicly challenged by the theological think-tank ekklesia.
Campaigners for the right to hit children are now saying parents need to be able to continue to smack lightly to ensure discipline. One supporter of smacking said the legislation should include spanking, with a "wooden spoon" if necessary.