29 Jan 2012

Smacking ban led to riots, says MP Lammy

Tottenham MP David Lammy says restrictions on parents smacking their children were partly responsible for last summer’s riots. MP Harriett Baldwin and columnist Laurie Penny debate the issue.

Legislation surrounding the smacking of children needs to be relaxed so working-class parents can instil discipline in their homes without fearing prosecution, says, says Mr Lammy.

In an interview with LBC Radio, the former education minister said: “Many of my constituents came up to me after the riots and blamed the Labour government, saying: ‘You guys stopped us being able to smack our children’.

“I have to say when this was first raised with me I was pretty disparaging. But I started to listen. These parents are scared to smack their children and paranoid that social workers will get involved and take their children away.”

Mr Lammy, who admitted to smacking his three- and five-year-old sons, said working-class parents should be able to physically discipline their children to prevent them from joining gangs and getting involved in knife crime.

Current legislation, enforced under he children act of 2004, says parents are allowed to smack their offspring without causing the “reddening of the skin”.

Previously they could use “reasonable chastisement”, with a judge deciding if they had overstepped the mark. However, since the 2004 amendments the decision has been left to social workers.

Exercising judgement

Mr Lammy said a lot of parents in his constituency have been left confused by the changes and were reluctant to physically discipline their children in case they were contacted by social workers.

He added: “The law used to allow ‘reasonable chastisement’, but current legislation stops actions that lead to a reddening of the skin – which for a lot of my non-white residents isn’t really an issue.”

The politician argued parents in Tottenham had to raise their children “with knives, gangs and the dangers of violent crime just outside the window”, but “no longer feel sovereign in their own homes”, because of the laws.

“The ability to exercise their own judgment in relation to discipline and reasonable chastisement has been taken away,” he added.

Mr Lammy has set out his support changing the smacking laws in his book Out Of The Ashes: After The Riots.

Poor parenting

A YouGov poll for Channel 4 and ITN commissioned days after the riots last summer revealed that those interviewed believed that poor parenting was in part responsible for what happened in London and other English cities.

According to more than 2,000 people polled, the parents of youths caught committing offences were to blame and should pay the price.

More than two-thirds of those questioned said the parents of under-18s convicted of an offence should be prosecuted.