Smacking ban is not about criminalising parents, says MSP

Green MSP John Finnie. Picture: JP
Green MSP John Finnie. Picture: JP
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Proposals that would ban the smacking of children are not about criminalising parents, Green MSP John Finnie has said.

Mr Finnie defended his plan for a Member’s Bill to remove the defence of “justifiable assault”, which allows parents to use physical punishment to admonish a child, as he launched a consultation on the move.

The Highlands and Islands MSP said Scotland was “out of step” with the rest of the world on the issue and had been “roundly condemned” by the UN.

The proposed smacking ban has the support of organisations including the Church of Scotland, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, NSPCC, Children 1st, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner and Barnardo’s.

Opponents argue the change in the law would erode the rights of parents.

Reverend David Robertson, a moderator at the Free Church of Scotland, argued the move was “completely unnecessary”.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “It’s already against the law to hit a child on the head or to hit with an implement or to shake.

“This is going to criminalise good parents, just for tapping their child on the hand.”

He added: The whole position is illogical, it’s virtue signalling, it’s middle class elites ... criminalising good working class parents.”

Responding to the criticism on the same programme, Mr Finnie said: “This isn’t about criminalising anyone. This is about supporting parents and most importantly giving the most vulnerable people in our society equal protection from assault.

“This is not about criminalising any more than legislation about seatbelts in cars.”

He continued: “The express purpose of this Bill is to give equal protection for assault and that will prohibit physical punishment by parents and others caring for or in charge of children.

“That will be achieved by ending the current legal position that physical punishment of children can be viewed as justifiable assault.”

Mr Finnie acknowledged there were people who had been smacked as children who believed it had done them no harm, but added: “We have to address the small minority who would be seriously damaged by this and all the evidence suggests that it is in every child’s interest to find themselves in a safe and nurturing position, that’s best for brain development. All the experts say this.”

Members of the public will be able to respond to the consultation until August 4.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government does not support physical punishment of children.

“We have no plans to introduce legislation in the area, but we will consider carefully the Member’s Bill that we understand John Finnie intends to introduce.

“We continue to support positive parenting and we recognise that physical punishment can set children the wrong example and is not an effective way to teach children discipline.”