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Holyrood committee backs Scottish smacking ban bill

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Legislation banning smacking children in Scotland has won the backing of a Holyrood committee.

A majority of members on the equalities committee backed a bill, put forward by Green MSP John Finnie, to give children “equal protection from assault”.

The group’s report said that the right to family life does not include “a right to hit children”.

The Conservative MSPs on the committee dissented from the report, saying they were “unconvinced” by the bill.

Mr Finnie said he was “delighted” with the support, saying that “prohibiting physical punishment will bring substantial benefits for individuals and society”.

The bill looks set to pass into law, with the Scottish government pledging to support it.

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill would remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” or “justifiable assault” in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

A public consultation on the issue in 2017 received more than 650 responses, with about 75% being in favour of the ban.

The committee acknowledged concerns from some witnesses about the potential for the bill to “criminalise” parents, but said they did not believe that “changing the law would lead to a notable increase in the number of families brought into the criminal justice system”.

Convener Ruth Maguire said that removing the legal defence would be “a watershed moment in Scots law and in changing Scotland’s culture”.

She said: “It’s over three decades since all physical punishment was ended in classrooms, and it’s now time to end it at home as well. This law will ensure our children are legally protected from assault in the same way as adults.”

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Green MSP John Finnie

The two Tory members of the committee – Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells – did not agree with the conclusions of the report.

Explaining their thinking in an annexe to the main report, they said they “remain unconvinced by the evidence before the committee that most people living in Scotland would see parental smacking as constituting the level of sinister and serious violence that the criminal law should be addressing”.

They said they were “deeply concerned by the overly simplistic attempt to suggest that children’s rights are the same as those of adults”, adding that “parents are best able to decide what is in the interests of their children”.

They said: “The fundamental problem is that behind all the virtue-signalling, the bill in reality does precious little to deliver on the promise of making our young people safer, nor does it provide the legal clarity for parents that its proponents suggest.”

Mr Finnie said he was “delighted” with the committee’s overall backing, thanking them for their “diligence”.

He said: “Fifty-four countries already prohibit the physical punishment of children and I look forward to progressing my bill through the parliamentary process, and bringing Scotland into line with international best practice.”

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