The Methodist Church has issued a statement in support of a compromise amendment to the Children Bill as the row over plans to ban parents from smacking children escalated today ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote.
The amendment that the church is backing would make it impossible for a parent to defend themselves against a charge of assault by claiming it was 'reasonable chastisement'.
The government has given Labour peers a free vote on the change, but some critics say that it is a "fudge". The Government has told Labour Peers that they must vote against another amendment backing a total ban on smacking, which many Christian leaders have previously called for.
The attempt by the Government to get Labour peers to reject a ban on smacking once again highlights the difficulties faced by representatives of the churches in the House of Lords. The ex-President of the Methodist Conference Revd Dr Leslie Griffiths was recently made a working peer in the House of Lords, and chose to become a Labour member rather than joining the 189 independents in the House of Lords. His appointment however came at a time when the Government is being accused of boosting the number of Labour Peers in the Second Chamber so it can have its way.
Peers will vote first this afternoon on a complete ban on smacking, but which is expected to fail with the Government pushing Labour peers to vote against it. The House of Lords with only then vote on Lib Dem Peer Lord Lester's compromise amendment.
His amendment allows "moderate smacking" but removes the defence of "reasonable chastisement". Parents who inflict bruising or reddening of the skin, or cause mental harm could be prosecuted.
The Methodist Church backs the 'Children are unbeatable!' alliance, which is campaigning to scrap the 1860 legal defence of 'reasonable chastisement' in order to give children the same protection from assault in the home as adults.
Steve Pearce, Mission Education Secretary (Children), and the Methodist signatory on a recent 'Children are unbeatable!' open letter to Education Secretary Charles Clarke, said: "Overturning the archaic defence of 'reasonable chastisement' will send out a clear message that violence has no place in caring and loving parenting. Christians have a particular concern to speak out for weaker groups, and for people who are subjected to violence. The Methodist Church is committed to playing its part in promoting and mobilising resources and support which helps parents develop non-violent ways of discipline."
The Methodist Church's support for the Children are unbeatable! campaign has included developing and promoting publications for parents, lobbying government, and working with all the churches involved in the national campaign, including the Roman Catholic, Church of England and United Reformed Church.