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Scotland takes 'momentous step' towards smacking ban

Legislation would remove the defence of justifiable assault from Scots law.

Vote: 80 MSPs backed the legislation (file pic).
Vote: 80 MSPs backed the legislation (file pic).

Scotland has taken a "momentous step" towards banning smacking, as MSPs overwhelmingly approved the general principles of new legislation to outlaw any violence directed at children.

Children's campaigners welcomed the vote in Holyrood to approve Green MSP John Finnie's Bill by 80 votes to 29, although SNP MSPs Christine Grahame and Richard Lyle abstained.

As the proposal was debated Mr Finnie likened the legislation, which would remove the existing defence of "justifiable assault" from Scots law, to measures such as the smoking ban and the outlawing of drink-driving.

In such issues legislative change had been needed before there was a cultural shift, the Green MSP said.

He stated: "I firmly believe that as with the smoking ban we will see public opinion change over time.

"As Bruce Adamson, Scotland's children and young people's commissioner told the committee 'you need legislation to drive the cultural change'.

"In that regard this issue could be seen in the same way as seatbelts in cars, drink driving and smoking in pubs.

"On such issues you need to lead with the legislation in order to deliver the cultural change."

'We often in Scotland talk about zero tolerance for domestic abuse and violence, but we allow the use of physical punishment for children'
John Finnie MSP

Opponents of the Bill have raised fears that it could criminalise thousands parents for disciplining their children

But Mr Finnie insisted it was "time for action" as he said: "A growing body of international evidence shows that physical punishment of children is harmful to their development and not an effective means of discipline."

He continued: "We often in Scotland talk about zero tolerance for domestic abuse and violence, but we allow the use of physical punishment for children.

"This sends a message to our children that hitting someone is a way of resolving a dispute, or if you don't like their behaviour."

Tory MSP Oliver Mundell spoke out against the proposals, saying that "however well-meaning" the Bill was it was "an assault on family life".

The Conservative said: "The fundamental problem is that this Bill does more harm than good and it doesn't live up to its name."

'Physical punishment is harmful to children and its days are rightly numbered'
Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland

However, children's minister Maree Todd retorted: "Our intention is not to criminalise parents, our intention is to provide early support using a getting it right for every child approach, which we have been using for many years, continuing to use that to recognise the situations where parents need support and to put in support."

With the Scottish Government backing the Bill she added: "We're not telling parents how to parent, what we will do is continue to provide support for parents so they can decide for themselves the best way to take care of their children."

Labour's Mary Fee echoed that message, saying: "By giving children equal protection from assault, we are protecting children and safeguarding children's human rights."

Mary Glasgow, chief executive of the charity Children 1st, said: "Today, MSPs have taken a momentous step towards Scotland becoming the first UK country to end physical punishment of children.

"The overwhelming majority in favour of the Bill at Holyrood shows politicians want what we all want for our children, for them to grow up feeling loved, safe and happy, in the arms of their family."

Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland said: "It is simply wrong that children do not have the same protection from assault as adults.

"Rectifying this unfair legal loophole is a common-sense step, which would bring Scotland into line with dozens of other countries across the world. Physical punishment is harmful to children and its days are rightly numbered."

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