Assembly Members give Stage 1 approval to proposed smacking Bill, but there was strong opposition to the plan as the Government “airbrushes” out the public
• Proposed Bill passes by 36 to 15, with no abstentions
• Minister admits Government doesn’t know how many parents will be prosecuted
• Assembly Members highlight arguments from Be Reasonable campaign
• Government again ignores strong public opposition, claiming “professionals support the ban”
The Welsh Government’s proposed smacking ban has passed Stage 1 of the legislative process, but there was strong opposition from Assembly Members, who highlighted many of the Be Reasonable campaign’s arguments, including how the change will criminalise ordinary loving parents and is deeply unpopular.
Opening the debate, Government Minister Julie Morgan thanked everyone who took part in the consultation, saying that professionals support the ban, but ignoring the fact that two thirds of the public oppose any change. She also claimed that following a similar change in New Zealand, there was unanimous support for the ban, forgetting the referendum in 2009 when nearly nine in ten (87.4 per cent) opposed it.
Mrs Morgan went on to admit the Welsh Government did not know how many parents would be caught by the ban.
The Chair of the Finance Committee highlighted the need for a revised Regulatory Impact Assessment, and said he believes “more progress should have been made in establishing a baseline cost for referrals to social services”.
Despite opposition, the Bill passed by 36 votes to 15 last night after a lengthy debate.
Jamie Gillies, a spokesman for Be Reasonable, said he was disappointed by the result but hopes that opposition will grow amongst AMs in the coming months.
“Last night, Assembly Members heard concerns that this legislation will criminalise good parents, divert resources away from cash-strapped social services departments, and cost millions to the taxpayer. There was even criticism from the Government’s own benches that more needs to be done to prepare for the Bill’s implementation.
“Given the catalogue of issues with this Bill and the dangers a smacking ban presents to families in Wales, we hope that AMs will see sense and oppose the Bill when it comes to be debated again. If politicians truly want to protect children and do what’s best for professionals working on the frontline, they should not risk this legislative stab in the dark.”
Opposition to the Bill came from a broad coalition of Assembly Members. Neil McEvoy (Independent) told the Assembly, “I don’t support smacking but also do not support telling other parents how to bring their children up. He went on to quote a senior serving police officer who wrote to AMs saying: “There is no need for a smacking ban… Children are already protected from abuse and physical harm. As officers we know where the line is drawn and so do the public at large.”
The Minister claimed the experience of a smacking ban in New Zealand had been very “positive” and that the ban was a “very successful bit of legislation of which they are proud”. Darren Millar (Conservative) challenged Mrs Morgan on this point, highlighting a report by law firm Chen Palmer that showed how the law had divided families and seen parents prosecuted. He said: “I would implore you to abandon this legislation”.
He also said: “We’re being asked to give permission for a Bill to proceed to its next stage, to become law, that will result in the criminalisation, potentially, of thousands of parents across Wales who use the occasional smack.”
Mandy Jones (Brexit Party) reminded the chamber that she was abused as a child, saying: “There is a massive spectrum between a tap on the hand and a punch in the face, and I should know that.” She went on: “This Bill represents a disproportionate interference in family life by the state and I cannot support this level of interference. It could lead to loving parents being prosecuted for using a mild smack.”
She added that there is no evidence to show that a light tap does any harm to a child whatsoever. “In some situations, it can communicate danger to a child in a way that verbal reasoning cannot.”
Gareth Bennett (UKIP) pointed out that the law already protects children, saying: “I do wonder at the need to create new legislation to tackle a crime that can already be dealt with perfectly well under the existing laws. When the Minister raised the issue of the smacking ban in a statement here in March, she stated that ‘our intention is not to draw more people into the criminal justice system’.”
He continued: “I worry that what may happen is that we will see people who really aren’t abusing their children being investigated and their lives perhaps being blown apart as a result of some spurious complaint being made against them… there has been no evidence brought forward by the Minister that genuinely abusive adults are escaping their rightful punishment because of this defence”.
“What [the Bill] will do is remove the police’s discretion so that they will be obliged in future to investigate fully each complaint that is made, even if it is one that they themselves believe to be ill-founded, malicious or even vexatious. This will lead inevitably to a heavier workload for the police and the CPS.”
Mark Isherwood (Conservative) warned the Assembly that the Bill was deeply unpopular. “I haven’t spoken to a single person outside the Cardiff Bay bubble who supports this Bill,” he said, going on to read a letter from a constituent which concluded with the message: “Most of us were smacked as children… We would not accuse our parents of abuse”.
Caroline Jones (Brexit Party) said she had been “inundated with calls and emails” against the Bill. She added that the reasonable chastisement defence allows a loving parent to deliver a very mild smack, does not allow them to beat their child black and blue and is not abuse, but is a form of discipline given by a loving parent. She went on to cite the Be Reasonable ComRes poll that showed three-quarters of parents believe smacking should not be criminalised.
While Dawn Bowden (Labour), despite supporting the aims of the Bill, wanted assurances that the change would not “…create a situation where hard-pressed social services, police forces and prosecutors” face additional burdens. She also said that she wanted “diversionary schemes” focused on “encouraging and supporting parents rather than penalising them”.
And Janet Finch-Saunders (Conservative) accused Julie Morgan of being “clueless as to the pressure this legislation will cause to the cash crisis in social services”. She added that the Government has failed to detail the cost of this change, admits that parents who smack can be investigated or prosecuted and is unable to provide any evidence which shows that a light and infrequent smack is harmful to a child.
Jamie continued: “Families up and down Wales will be thankful to AMs who did speak up for parents in last night’s debate. But they’ll be angry that the Government intends to plough on with this deeply unpopular Bill. Around three-quarters of adults in Wales do not want a smacking ban. It’s time for the Government to listen to the electorate.”
For media enquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225.
Notes to Editors:
The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots coalition of parents, academics and politicians with a single goal: to discourage the Welsh Government from pursuing its pledge to make reasonable chastisement a criminal offence.