Be Reasonable Wales welcomes growing opposition in the Assembly to Government plans to ban smacking

  • First Minister and Children’s minister admitted decent parents will be prosecuted
  • Public Health Wales confirms smacking to be treated the same as abuse
  • Doctors and nurses who smack will be reported to police
  • Analysis of law in New Zealand shows how parents have been criminalised

Be Reasonable Wales has welcomed the growing opposition in the Assembly to Government plans to ban smacking.

Responding to the publication of a report from the Childrens’ Commissioner for Wales this week, senior Assembly Member Darren Millar told the Assembly that while supporting Sally Holland’s work, he was disappointed that the removal of reasonable chastisement was included.

Mr Millar said: “It seems to me to be the wrong course of action when you consider the actual harms that children are indeed facing. The report states that children in Wales do not have equal protection from assault in law compared to adults, but, of course, that is misleading and inaccurate.

“The law clearly protects young children and all children, indeed, from violence, but it also recognises that light physical discipline, such as a smack on the hand or the backside, should not be a criminal offence, and removing the defence of reasonable chastisement, I think, will destroy this distinction and leave many loving parents across Wales who smack their children at risk of arrest, conviction and even prosecution…”

Mr Millar continued: “The report goes on to say, of course, that the Government has an obligation to take action where there’s a potential risk of harm to children in Wales, and I agree with that absolutely. But there are people out there who do abuse children, and we should be empowering social services and the police to track them down and bring them to justice, not wasting the time of the police and social services by sending them after ordinary, hard-working mums and dads who choose to occasionally smack their children as a form of discipline. The evidence does not show that light smacking does any harm to children.

“The Government consultation on abolishing reasonable chastisement admits this. In fact, it stated, and I quote: there is unlikely to be any research evidence which specifically shows the effects of a light and infrequent smack as being harmful to children.”

Mr Millar, went on to issue a plea to Assembly Members to read the research from top disciplinary expert Professor Robert Larzelere who has counseled against the introduction of an ideological ban and that the public continue to oppose the change.

“We know that the results of a Welsh poll back in 2017 concluded that 76 per cent of the Welsh public don’t think that smacking should be a criminal offence,” he said.

“77 per cent are concerned that a smacking ban may well flood the police and social workers with trivial cases and make it more difficult for them to target their resources, their limited resources, to stop serious child abusers; and 77 per cent of the Welsh public also think that it should be the role of parents and guardians, not the state, to decide whether to smack their children.

“So, I think it is absolutely vital that we do what we can to improve the lot of children and young people here in Wales and that we pursue measures that will genuinely help children, but this particular proposal, in terms of a smacking ban, is not the right way forward, and I would urge the Minister in his response to consider the weight of evidence, which is absolutely against the Government’s plans.”

The intervention from Mr Millar, follows the release of documents under freedom of information, which revealed that NHS doctors and nurses will be treated as child abusers if they are suspected of smacking their children. They will face suspension from their jobs and criminal investigation.

The FoIs asked what impact banning smacking would have on the NHS and its staff. Cwm Taf University Board, stated: “It is already a statutory duty to report child protection concerns to the Local Authority and if the defence of reasonable chastisement is removed, smacking will become one of those concerns.”

It continued: “All allegations of abuse or neglect are investigated by the Local Authority and the Police.”

While Public Health Wales says: “staff are aware of their duty to report suspected abuse of a child to the police or social services”.

Pressed specifically about how changing the law will affect its staff Cwm Taf University Health Board replied that a complaint about a staff member “would be dealt with in the same way as any other complaint of abuse / neglect made against a staff member using the Safeguarding Board policies and procedures.”

The FoIs seemed to confirm the findings of a report on smacking in New Zealand, which concluded that hundreds of parents had been criminalised, arrested, or taken to court since a smacking ban was introduced there in 2007.

Lowri Turner, a spokesmum for the Be Reasonable Campaign commented: “Day by day the case against the ban gets stronger. Now we have a senior Assembly Member, publicly attacking the Government’s proposals. Mr Millar recognises that changing the law will not prevent abuse or neglect, but will lead to ordinary loving parents being turned into criminals.

“This is a significant moment for our campaign. We have already seen the First Minister confirm at a public meeting that he smacked his own children and it did them no harm, a previous Children’s Minister saying assault would include a parent picking up a screaming toddler from a shop floor and placing them in a trolley, and FoIs saying that doctors and nurses will face investigation from the police and social services if they are suspected of smacking their children.

“Politicians should be trying to find ways to help parents, rather than supporting proposals that will criminalise them. Especially when there is no evidence that banning smacking in other countries has had any beneficial effect. In fact there is growing evidence to show that behavior has got worse. This is why the safest law is the one we have. A law that recognizes the unique role of parents and gives limited discretion to how they might discipline their own children.”

For media inquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225


Notes to Editors:

The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots campaign of parents and supportive groups with a single goal: to discourage the Welsh Government from pursuing its pledge to outlaw reasonable chastisement of children by their parents.

Click here for the report by New Zealand public law specialists Chen Palmer, dated 17 January 2018.

Click here for the Cwm Taf University Health Board Freedom of Information Request, dated 20 February 2018

Click here for the Public Health Wales Freedom of Information Request, dated 27 February 2018

In January 2015, former Children’s Minister Leighton Andrews told the Welsh Assembly:

“The effect of amendments 46 to 67 is not only to criminalise smacking, but also any other touching of a child in Wales by a parent for the purpose of administering discipline. The offence of a battery is committed where a person intentionally or recklessly inflicts unlawful violence on another. Any touching of another person, however slight, may amount to a battery. For example, a parent who forcibly lifts a misbehaving child would be guilty of battery.”