Smacking ban moves closer to becoming law in Scotland

A smacking ban in Scotland moved a step closer to becoming law after a majority of MSPs on a Holyrood committee supported the policy.

Plans to make smacking a child illegal were backed by five of the seven MSPs on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee at its first stage towards becoming law.

The Bill would remove the defence of justifiable assault in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

It would be “a watershed moment in Scots law and in changing Scotland’s culture”, according to Committee Convener Ruth Maguire.

She said: “It’s over three decades since all physical punishment was ended in classrooms, and it’s now time to end it at home as well. This law will ensure our children are legally protected from assault in the same way as adults.

“This Bill has a very clear message about what is acceptable to parents, public services, and children.

“The majority of our Committee Members believe this move will change Scotland for the better.”

However, the two Tory MSPs who opposed the plans, Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells, said “it will not stop the serious and pernicious child abuse” and warned that it could stretch police resources and criminalise parents.

In their written dissent of the proposed legislation, they described it as “a heavy-handed approach” and “a distraction from our overriding responsibility to support parents and families rather than seek to punish them”.

They added: “Worryingly, many witnesses, and indeed at times fellow Members, have appeared to suggest that parents would not and should not be criminalised, prosecuted, fined or sanctioned for smacking. This seems naive at best and disingenuous at worst given the legal evidence we have received.

“There can be no doubt this Bill will criminalise actions or behaviours which are currently lawful. It therefore seems somewhat odd to hope for one outcome and legislate for another.”

Green MSP John Finnie, who proposed the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, said he was “delighted” that the Committee endorsed the general principles in its stage one report.

He added: “Members from all five parties supported my original proposal and I am delighted that following its thorough scrutiny the Equalities and Human Rights Committee has recommended that parliament supports the general principles of my bill.

“The evidence presented at committee showed that providing children with equal protection from assault by prohibiting physical punishment will bring substantial benefits for individuals and society.

“54 countries already prohibit the physical punishment of children and I look forward to progressing my bill through the parliamentary process, and bringing Scotland into line with international best practice.”

Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland said: “The Committee’s support for the Equal Protection Bill is a clear signal to children that their Parliament stands ready to ensure they have the same protection against assault as adults.

“Rectifying this unfair legal loophole is a common-sense step, while the weight of evidence tells us that physical punishment is harmful to children.

“Dozens of countries across the world have already made this change and shown that fears about the criminalisation of parents or overburdened public services are unfounded.

“Scotland’s children deserve better than the current law.”