Assembly Members endorse “draconian” bill to criminalise parents who smack

This evening, members of the Welsh Assembly endorsed the Welsh Government’s bill to criminalise parental smacking during a penultimate Stage 3 debate on the proposal, rejecting sensible amendments to mitigate its effects.

The final Stage 4 debate on the bill will take place next week, on Tuesday 28 January, when it is expected that it will pass and go on to achieve Royal Assent.

Spokeswoman for the Be Reasonable Wales campaign Dr Ashley Frawley commented:

“It’s truly sad that AMs have backed this legislation which will open the door to normal, loving parents being investigated by the police, cautioned and even convicted for actions that are a perfectly normal, and harmless part of family life.

“This bill isn’t about giving children additional protections. The law as it stands protects children from violence and abuse at the hands of a parent or carer. This is ideologically driven. It represents the views of a minority of self-styled ‘parenting experts’ who don’t like smacking, and feel that thousands of decent, loving parents across Wales should be forced to adopt their style of parenting.

“The Welsh Government itself admits that reasonable chastisement is not harmful to children. The explanatory notes on the smacking bill state that there is ‘no definitive evidence that reasonable physical punishment causes negative outcomes for children’. So its hard to see how they can justify a law which will criminalise parents for such actions.”

Dr Frawley continued: “It’s not just Welsh parents who will be affected, the law will apply to any parent residing in Wales. What will happen to EU nationals, or migrants from outside Europe who smack their child and are reported to the police? Being charged with a smacking offence could jeopardise their bid for citizenship. Welsh policy makers have not thought this through.

“There’s still one more vote to come on this bill. I hope that next week, AMs opt to respect their constituents and ditch this draconian proposal.”

During this evening’s debate, AMs discussed and voted on eleven amendments by Welsh Conservative AM Janet Finch Saunders to mitigate the effects of the bill.

Ms Finch Saunders’ amendments would have; placed a duty on the Government to promote public awareness of the smacking ban in specific contexts; report frequently on the impact of the legislation; require the Government to give sufficient funding to local authorities and public bodies; and delay implementation of the new law until an out-of-court ‘diversion scheme’ is in place.

All of the amendments Ms Finch Saunders tabled were rejected apart from two relating to reporting on the effects of the law.

During the debate, several AMs, including Ms Finch Saunders, spoke out against the change in the law.

Ms Finch Saunders said the feedback AMs on the Children, Young People and Education Committee received on the bill during scrutiny had been “overwhelmingly negative”.

“The committee consultation showed that two thirds of respondents do not support the ban.”

And she raised concerns over the impact the ban will have on social services departments in Wales:

“…the deputy minister admitted to the committee that she is still unable to produce a complete estimate for referrals for reasonable chastisement at an all-Wales level…I am still cautious about the effect the bill could have on already low budgets”.

Fellow Welsh Conservative Darren Millar AM stressed that the Welsh public are massively opposed to the bill, saying that polls consistently find more than two thirds opposition.

Whilst Mark Isherwood AM accused AMs of being out-of-touch, saying AMs in the ‘Cardiff Bay bubble’ are failing to listen to the public on this issue.

Speaking as a grandparent, granduncle and father, he said he is personally concerned at the ‘snooper’s charter’ a smacking ban will introduce.

Mr Isherwood also mentioned a survey conducted by this campaign which found that 7 in 10 Welsh Councillors are opposed to a smacking ban, and 9 in 10 do not feel that their local authority has the resources to cope.

For more details on the councillors survey, read this press release.