Welsh Government launches consultation on outlawing “smacking”

(Title Image: Herald Scotland)

Yesterday, Minister for Children & Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies (Lab, Ogmore), launched a public consultation to gather views on introducing a law to outlaw “smacking” in Wales (pdf).

The issue was a long-running controversy during the Fourth Assembly, with the Welsh Government acting indecisively on the issue – supporting it one moment, not supporting it the next. They have, however, committed to a law change during this term.

In his statement, the Minister told AMs that physical punishment can do long-term harm to children, was ineffective and while physical punishment has already been outlawed in schools and other places, it was an anomaly that the option still existed for parents.

The Minister also confirmed the Welsh Government are not seeking an outright ban on smacking, but instead – as previous proposals – removing punishment as a criminal defence when a parent is taken to court for assault.

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), acknowledged a wide variety of opinions within the Tory group and Tory AMs will have a free vote on any future law. Angela stressed the importance of ensuring ordinary people get to have their say during the consultation instead of it being left to the Third Sector and others who have “already made their minds up” – a point later half-echoed by Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan).

Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West) told the chamber the issue had already provoked a significant response on social media and she believes the law shouldn’t be used to punish parents who physically punish their child in a “moment of frustration or panic” (i.e. taking them out of danger).

Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North) – one of the vocal supporters of a law change – wondered what lessons could be taken from the Scottish Government’s experiences as they’re currently going through a similar process.

Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West) asked whether the state was “extending its claws into family life” and questioned the effectiveness of a possible ban. She cited quotes from two mothers about the proposal which suggest this was an attempt to treat children as “mini-adults” and that parents were far too soft about discipline, leading to behavioural problems in schools.

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) recalled the issue being raised during the First Assembly. He supports a law change believing “minimal” smacking can easily escalate into child abuse if the law wasn’t crystal clear. He did, however, believe any law change should be “softer” than a criminal matter and instead say that if a parent smacks a child they could expect to receive an intervention of some sort.

If you want to have your say on the proposed smacking ban, all of the details are available here. The consultation is open until April 2nd 2018.

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