LONDON – British lawmakers on Monday voted against a ban on parents spanking their children and decided instead to tighten existing rules.
After a three-hour debate in the House of Lords, peers rejected the ban, 250-75.
Instead, they voted, 226-91, to allow moderate spanking but make it easier to prosecute parents who physically or mentally abuse their children by spanking.
The amendment must be approved by Parliament's lower chamber, the House of Commons, before becoming law.
In several European countries, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Austria, physical punishment of children is illegal.
Advocacy groups insist children must have the same legal protection from being hit as adults and had called for the law to be changed. Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has repeatedly shied away from a ban, fearing that it will be accused of intruding into family affairs.
The current law dates back to a case in 1860, when a judge ruled that physical punishment of children should be allowed as a "reasonable chastisement."
Campaigners argue that the ruling is ambiguous, and two parliamentary committees have said it is too often used as a legal defense to excuse violent behavior that goes far beyond a spanking.
In the House of Lords on Monday, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester successfully proposed a measure to allow moderate spanking but remove the "reasonable chastisement" defense if parents harmed a child physically or mentally. If the amendment is also approved by the House of Commons, the new law will make it easier for authorities to prosecute violent parents.
Several peers called for an outright ban.
"Smacking can lead to battering, which can lead to death," said Liberal Democrat peer Lord Thomas. "We are presented with medical reports, social service records, school records and one can see the route to death which starts with the initial smack."
Mr. Blair's government ordered its Labor peers to vote against a ban but allowed them a free vote on Lord Lester's amendment.
"The government wants an outcome that maintains the balance between the parent's right to discipline and protecting the child," said Mr. Blair's spokesman. "That is why we don't want to criminalize parents. That is why we are opposed to outright bans."
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