Labour MPs are increasingly concerned that the Government will “whip” them to vote against equal protection from assault for children when an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill is debated on Wednesday 8 October - see news item above.
More than one hundred (111 to date) Labour backbench MPs have signed a private statement urging Ministers to allow them to vote according to their conscience on this reform.
The abolition of school corporal punishment was decided on a free conscience vote. More recently, free votes have been given on abortion and embryology research.
Labour MPs also point out that free votes have been granted on other issues in recent years, including banning fox hunting (2003/4) and banning tail-docking of dogs (2006).
Many Labour Peers, including Rt Hon Lord Kinnock, are also calling for a free vote.
During the contest for the Labour Party deputy leadership in 2007, Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, now Leader of the House of Commons, declared support for a free vote on this issue. She said at the time: "I want children to have the same protection from assault as adults have. I support there being a free vote on the issue in parliament."
Labour MPs are being supported by a host of Labour-supporting public figures outside Parliament who have written an "Open letter" to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the issue. Signatories to the statement include Patrick Stewart, Fiona Millar, Richard Wilson, Glenys Kinnock MEP, Neal Lawson,
David Aaronovitch, John Edmonds, Melissa Benn, Professor Ruth Lister, Rodney Bickerstaffe and many others.
In the "Open letter" to Gordon Brown they say: "This is clearly a conscience issue, equal to any others that have been granted such status. It should be debated and voted on freely, fairly and openly, in the parliamentary tradition.
"Allowing a free vote is such a simple solution and we believe it would be a popular move, not only with Labour MPs, but also with the public.”