Welsh Government tables law to outlaw “smacking”

(Title Image: The Herald)

Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) Bill
Introduced by Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North)
Bill (pdf)
Explanatory Memorandum (pdf)

Why introduce a smacking ban?

This has a long history in the Senedd. An attempt was made to introduce a ban during the Fourth Assembly – which you can read up on the old Oggy Bloggy Ogwr – but it failed to pass despite a rebellion by backbench Labour AMs (including Julie Morgan).

Plans to introduce a smacking ban during the Fifth Assembly go back to May 2016, but it’s only now that a Bill has actually been put forward. Apparently it was a 2016 manifesto commitment by Labour, but it’s long been said they intended to bring it forward “with cross-party consensus”.

The overarching aim of the Bill is to enhance children’s rights by protecting them from physical harm.

Surveys carried out by Beaufort Research in July 2018 concluded that 81% of parents disagreed that it was “sometimes necessary to smack your children”, while 48% agreed with an outright smacking ban compared to 39% who disagreed. The public consultation prior to the Bill’s introduction produced a closer result with 50.1% agreeing that a new law would protect children’s rights compared to 48.1% who disagreed.

Additional research from the Public Policy Institute produced inconclusive results on the question of whether “smacking” caused long-lasting harm to children, but it also concluded that smacking made little difference to short-term and long-term behaviour and was no more effective than non-physical punishments.

The four Welsh police forces gathered data on the number of investigations where an adult (old enough to be a parent of the victim) has used reasonable punishment as a defence in common assault or cruelty against under-18s; the total across Wales was 274 cases a year.

A similar Bill has been introduced by a Green MSP in Scotland as is currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament.

The Lowdown: What does the Smacking Ban Bill propose?

The Bill is one of the shortest ever introduced at the Senedd, standing at a single page of A4 – though it’s equally likely to be one of the most controversial laws.

There’s only one proposal. Corporal punishment can no longer be used as a defence in any civil or criminal proceedings in Wales where a person is accused of assaulting a child.

“Corporal punishment” has been legally defined as “battery carried out as a punishment” – battery itself broadly meaning “an unlawful and harmful application of force without consent”. So it presumably won’t cover examples such as forcibly dragging a child out of danger or pulling apart two fighting children.

Any person falling foul of the Bill, should it become law, could potentially get a criminal record, which would show up in DBS checks and affect their current or future employment prospects – particularly if they want to work with children.

Does the Senedd have the power to make this law?

This was one of the arguments used against previous proposals – that it crosses into criminal justice which is beyond the scope of the Senedd’s powers.

However, “parental discipline” hasn’t been reserved to Westminster in the Wales Act 2017 (Schedule 1, Section L12), meaning the Senedd has the (unquestioned) power to introduce a smacking ban.

How much will the Smacking Ban Bill cost?

The total cost of the Bill over the next five years is expected to be between £2.3-3.7million.

The bulk of this (£1.3-2.7million) will fall on the Welsh Government; the difference in the figure depends on the intensity and duration of any public information campaign they introduce should the Bill be passed by AMs.

The cost to the four Welsh police forces is expected to be £890,000 over five years as a result of a medium-term increase in criminal investigations. The Crown Prosecution Service and courts are expected to see an increase in combined costs of £90,000 over five years.

Social service referrals are estimated to cost £535 a piece, but it’s unclear how many would arise as a result of the ban.

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