Schools Secretary Ed Balls has been accused of refusing to ban Islamic schools from smacking children for fear of upsetting Muslim 'sensitivities'.
Mr Balls was last week urged to close a legal loophole which gives teachers in Britain's estimated 1,600 schools associated with mosques the right to smack children - even though it is banned in other schools.
He refused, prompting claims that he is allowing an alleged 'culture of physical abuse' in some of the mosque schools - or madrasahs - go unchecked.
Smacking is banned in all State and private schools. However, it does not apply to madrasahs, where pupils usually study in the evenings or at weekends, because the ban exempts schools where children attend for less than 12.5 hours per week.
Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws, who is spearheading the campaign to close the smacking loophole, said: 'The Government needs to legislate to protect children - not leave an opt-out simply because it fears some ethnic or religious backlash.'
He was supported by Labour MP Ann Cryer, who said it would be 'bonkers' if the Government did not act. She said: 'I suspect people are frightened of upsetting the sensitivities of certain members of the Muslim faith.'