Nothing wrong with lightly smacking your child, says education secretary

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has rejected a call by England’s Children’s Commissioner to ban smacking – saying there was nothing wrong with a “light smack on the arm”.

Dame Rachel de Souza signalled her support for changing the law so England follows Scotland and Wales in banning the smacking of children.

But Mr Zahawi rejected the idea as “nanny state” politics, and revealed that his wife occasionally gives their nine-year-old daughter “a light smack on the arm if she’s being completely naughty”.

The education secretary told Times Radio: “My very strong view is that actually we have got to trust parents on this and parents being able to discipline their children is something that they should be entitled to do.”

The minister told TalkRadio: “A light smack on the arm by a parent – I think most people listening this morning won’t recognise as anything wrong.”

Mr Zahawi added: “The discipline of children should be left up to parents … I trust parents. And I think it’s much better to do that than have a nanny state.”

Dame Rachel de Souza has signalled her support for changing the law to give children the same protection from assault as adults.

“I absolutely abhor, and I’m against, violence of any kind against children,” she told Times Radio. Because children are more vulnerable than adults, I think we do need to ensure that their rights are supported.”

The “smacking ban” was brought in under the Children Act 2020 and marks the end of the common law defence of “reasonable punishment”. It came after Scotland introduced its own ban in November 2020.

Although Dame Rachel acknowledged that protections for children are already “Enshrined in law” in England, she expressed admiration for the actions of the Scottish and Welsh governments.

Saying Boris Johnson’s government had a “great opportunity” to look at its implementation in Wales, she added: “It’s certainly something that I think we should consider.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer previously said the move should be mirrored in England, calling it “the right thing” to do.

But Mr Zahawi said on Thursday that there was a “very big difference” between a “light smack on the arm” and child abuse.

“Even when that happens it has to be on a very, very rare sort of occasion, and not something we would want to do as parents very often,” the minister told Times Radio, adding that it was better to “sit down and communicate with your child”.

A survey commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found more than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child, with 58 per cent thinking it was already illegal.