Chris Grayling has disclosed that he smacked his children because it “sends a message” about unacceptable behaviour, as he defended parents’ freedom to enforce discipline at home.
Mr Grayling also said he would not tolerate gay couples in prison sharing a cell
The Justice Secretary said he did not “hanker for” a time when children were caned at school but believed “occasional” physical chastisement was necessary.
His comments reopened the debate about whether the existing laws were appropriate.
Some MPs say that the current law on smacking — which makes it illegal to inflict injuries causing more than temporary reddening of the skin — has left parents afraid to punish their children.
Last year, a former Labour minister blamed the rules for the rioting in London and other cities in the summer of 2011.
Mr Grayling, who has two children, Laura, 20, and a 16-year-old son, said he occasionally smacked them when they were younger.
Laura is a Cambridge undergraduate and deputy editor of student newspaper The Tab Cambridge.
“You chastise children when they are bad, as my parents did me,” the minister said. “I’m not opposed to smacking. It is to be used occasionally. Sometimes it sends a message, but I don’t hanker for the days when children were severely beaten at school.”
Sources close to the minister said he used the punishment on an “occasional” basis and only when “really warranted”.
Previously, parents could use “reasonable punishment” as a defence. However, since 2004 adults have not been allowed to cause more than temporary “reddening of the skin” or any injury that is more than “transient and trifling”. Attempts by MPs in recent years to ban smacking have been resisted on the grounds that the practice is becoming less common.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, also admitted smacking her children but said she regretted it.
She told Murnaghan on Sky News: “Actually, to make it illegal complicates the issue unnecessarily, but if you do more — if you actually injure the child — that is a completely different issue.”
Last year, David Lammy, a former Labour minister, claimed that some of his constituents were so confused by the law that they were afraid to discipline their children.
He suggested that the decision to tighten the rules under the 2004 Children Act was partly to blame for the riots.
“These parents are scared to smack their children and paranoid that social workers will get involved and take their children away,” he said.
Mr Lammy said parents should be able to discipline their offspring physically to help prevent them joining gangs.