British lawmakers will vote Tuesday on whether parents should be banned from smacking their children, an emotive issue that has caused rumblings of dissent in Prime Minister Tony Blair's governing Labour Party.
The government is opposed to an outright ban, and says parents should be allowed to exercise "reasonable chastisement," as long as it does not lead to bruises, skin reddening, or psychological harm to a child, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Holt.
A number of Labour lawmakers, however, are unhappy with legislation before the House of Commons, and are calling for any form of physical punishment to be outlawed.
Blair says that's not necessary, that most parents know the difference between discipline and abuse. The fact that he might suffer an embarrassing defeat on the issue is getting almost as much attention as the proposed ban itself.
Britain is out of step on the issue with several European countries, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Austria, where all physical punishment of children is illegal.
Pressure groups insist children must have the same legal protection from being hit as adults and had called for the law to be changed.
"Giving children equal protection under the law on assault is a fundamental human rights principle," said Sir William Utting of the Children Are Unbeatable coalition. "There can be no justification whatsoever for the smallest and most fragile of our citizens having less protection than we take for granted ourselves."
Blair's government has repeatedly shied away from a ban, fearing 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 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 smack.
Earlier this year in the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester proposed amending the law to allow moderate spanking, but remove the "reasonable chastisement" defense if parents harmed a child physically or mentally.
The government is urging lawmakers to back the Lester amendment when the House of Commons votes later Tuesday. Labour lawmakers have been threatened with disciplinary measures if they back a rebel amendment calling for a total ban.
If the legislation is approved, the new law will make it easier for authorities to prosecute violent parents, officials said.