Select committee chairman disputes smacking ban powers

Child looking out of window AMs will be allowed a free vote on whether smacking children should be outlawed

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A senior backbench MP has called for clarification over whether the Welsh assembly can stop parents smacking their children.

Welsh Affairs Committee chairman David Davies said the issue should be referred to the Supreme Court if AMs vote in favour of a ban.

A cross-party group of four AMs has tabled a motion calling for legislation to change the law.

AMs will have a free vote when they debate it on Wednesday.

The four AMs are urging the Welsh government to introduce legislation intended to outlaw smacking by removing the defence of "chastisement" for assaulting a child.

If passed, the motion would not bind the government. Members of all four parties will have free votes.

The Welsh government says it wants to make physical punishment unacceptable by promoting "positive alternatives" to smacking.

The intention is to remove the legal defence of "reasonable chastisement" or "reasonable punishment".

It would mean if an allegation of hitting a child is made against an adult, there is less wriggle-room for those who might argue in defence that they had not realised they had hit the child so hard.

But it would not mean that every parent spotted giving their child a smack in public would be arrested and charged.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has said it is the view of Welsh ministers that it is possible for the assembly to amend the criminal law and "end the availability of the defence of reasonable punishment for those cases where it still applies to an offence of assaulting a child".

Start Quote

I'm a big believer in families having a right to bring up children and conduct their own affairs in the manner they see fit.”

End Quote Andrew RT Davies Conservative assembly leader

But in a letter to Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, Monmouth MP Mr Davies says: "Although it has some competencies in fields of child welfare, it has always been understood that the assembly cannot make criminal legislation."

He says the matter should be urgently referred to the Supreme Court if AMs pass the motion, so it can decide whether the assembly has legal powers to amend criminal law.

Mr Davies, who is opposed to a ban, adds: "I am a parent myself and I believe smacking should only be used where all other methods of managing behaviour have failed or the child puts themselves in danger."

In 2008 there was a dispute with the UK government about whether the assembly's law-making system at that time could be used to give Wales the power to ban smacking.

'Fine line'

Conservative assembly leader Andrew RT Davies, who is also against a ban, said: "I'm a big believer in families having a right to bring up children and conduct their own affairs in the manner they see fit.

"There is a fine line between the state interfering in family life and obviously parents having the opportunity to exercise their own judgement in their own situation."

The NSPCC is backing the motion and said it wanted to help parents use other methods to teach their children the difference between right and wrong.

Des Mannion, the charity's head of service in Wales, said: "Clear and consistent boundaries are essential for children and young people to have a secure and happy childhood.

"But whilst we would never want to criminalise loving parents, the NSPCC believes smacking is not an effective or constructive way of dealing with bad behaviour."

Lynne Hill, policy director at Children in Wales said they believed children should have the same protection in the law as adults from assault.

"Clear and consistent boundaries are crucial in childhood, but parents do not need to resort to physical punishment," she said.

"Positive non-violent parenting encourages better behaviour, whereas smacking teaches children that violence is acceptable.

"Although it may initially stop a child misbehaving, research has shown that it does not make them behave better in the longer term, so the child is smacked again."

One of the AMs tabling the motion, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, said: "The basic premise is simple: the law protects adults from being struck by another human being; I want nothing less for children."

She has brought the debate to the Senedd chamber with Labour AMs Christine Chapman and Julie Morgan, and Plaid Cymru AM Lindsay Whittle.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "This government is committed to work to make physical punishment of children and young people unacceptable through the promotion of positive alternatives and we believe this is the best place to start."

A Wales Office spokesperson said: "There are no firm proposals at present for the assembly to legislate to impose a prohibition on smacking.

"The government will await the outcome of the vote and any proposals which subsequently come forward."

What do you think of the moves to stop smacking?

Once again the Welsh government puts left wing posturing above the rights of their citizens to manage their own affairs.

John Brinkworth, Caerphilly,

So I'm in my local supermarket with a child throwing a tantrum. Is the supermarket going to provide a naughty step or time-out room for me to use? No, I don't think so. Children are not rational creatures and cannot be reasoned with;smacking is necessary sometimes.

Andrew Edgington, Stowmarket, UK,

I have never needed to do more than smack on the hand once to my oldest and not at all to my youngest however there may come a time when it is necessary as an absolute last resort. I was smacked by my dad when I was young but it was not often it was with good reason and it had the desired affect. My children respect me and they want to make me a proud parent. I think the problem with political correctness it has gone to far and this is just another nail in the coffin. Children have lost respect for their peers they use their knowledge of what they can get away with and push it to its limits. Smacking is different to hitting that is the key thing and it should only ever be after warnings and explanations and other things have been tried.

Diane Hambley, Cwmbran,

Children are not adults and it is exactly this sort of middleclass socialist in-home meddling that has lead to the increase in antisocial behaviour and people being arrested for taking photos of their children playing in the bath. There is a big difference between assaulting a child, which is already covered by the law and a smack on the leg which can stop a wild tantrum and gain focus and attention. Ones job as a parent is to raise a responsible adult, that will conduct themselves within the moral and social framework of society. Kids aren't born that way and as a society we need to stop asking children what they want and tell them what they have to do. The NSPCC have their hearts in the right place but down this path lies a culture of entitlement, rights without responsibilities and disruptive school children falsely accusing their teachers of all manner of abuse. Confusing smacking with assault is wrong and an intrusion on family life, not to mention completely unenforceable.

Jason Ellis, London,

I find it astonishing that people still believe that using violence against a child is an effective means of behaviour management. The people leaving comments, who say they want the right to strike a child, have the benefit of protection under the law from violence being used against them. Yet they would deny that right to those less able to protect themselves - their children. The idea that having been smacked as a child has "done me no harm" when it has left someone with a readiness to use violence against their own children speaks for itself. Surely we can do better than this. The prevailing social attitude is changing to recognise this; lets apply ourselves to do better for our children. This change should be welcomed and supported by loving parents.

Jan Godfrey, Cardiff,

Children should receive lots of love fun and discipline. Lot of fun and love. Spanking should be a first resort not last when tempers are frayed. We started spanking our boy at about 15 month old with a firm 'no!'. They are now 13 and 11 and we have never had any issues with them and people always compliment them on their behaviour. And neither does spanking breed violence, they dont thump the hell out of eachother other either, but there mates do who haven't been spanked! But all of this has to be put in the context of love and fun lots of it. Funny how people dont want parent to spank kids but they will be happy for them to eventually join the army and kill!

Ron Iveson,

The use of violence against children teaches them about violence and aclimatises them to violence later in life. Everybody will have a different viewpoint on where to draw the line between 'discipline' and abuse. It is difficult to argue that children should not be violent with eachother when an adult can be violent with a child for not following a parental request. Violence breeds violence.

Paul Evans, Yr Wyddgrug,,

If you teach the child it is ok to comunicate by violence, by resorting to it when your parenting skills fail you, your child will comunicate violently . Respect your child, do not pass on a legacy of violence. As it is illegal to hit adults it should ofcause be so with children.

Bente glastad, Bergen, Norway,

With the greatest respect to those well-meaning individuals trying to stop child abuse - surely you must understand that a "one size fits all" approach seldom works, and an outright ban would not only stop child abuse but also prevent a parent from issuing a well-balanced disciplinary smack when it is needed. Wanting to prevent child abuse is honorable, but this legislation would simply cause a greater problem for the majority of people by preventing them from disciplining their children to protect what are, thankfully, a minority of abused children for which legal protection is already in place.

James Dicks, Brownhills,

When the politicians, when the NSPCC, accept that they and not I have responsibility for how my children behave, they will have the right to tell me which natural parenting instincts I must not use. Until then, I have that right and responsibility. I will decide how my children learn the value of love, of trust, and of working together; and sadly, occasionally, the importance of authority and discipline, especially where safety is involved.

Chris, Hertfordshire,

I have two boys. I do not smack, which I accept is my choice. As someone who was a 'battered' child, I am totally against any form of physical violence against children. And thats what smacking is. My boys are 12 and 5 years old, they know what sort of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. I am always being complimented on how happy, polite and well behaved they are. They have the occasional disagreement with each other, which does not resort in any hitting etc. We have ground rules and we expect them to be followed. Punishments like no Ds, Wii etc does work.My husband and I very rarely shout and we lead by example, being respectful of each others opinions etc. I have friends who smack their children and I never force my views onto them.

Teressa, Lancashire,

It is disgraceful that as a nation we are still stuck with a Victorian attitude to children that allows adults to hit, thump or strike a child if a parent can satisfy a court that his or her act constituted "reasonable chastisement". In 8 European countries such behaviour is illegal. Any parent who believes that committing an act of violence against a child is anything more than bullying is deluded. It also teaches that it is acceptable behaviour to use violence against others to get what you want. I genuinely believe that there would be a national outcry if someone were caught on camera hitting a donkey, or a dog. Hitting a child in a supermarket is apparently acceptable behaviour in this country.

Garry Lockwood, London,

What the advocates of smacking are ignorant of (or choose to ignore) is that smacking has been prohibited in many European countries for years - without any noticeable disintegration of their societies. Having a clear-cut prohibition on smacking removes all the grey areas that are currently exploited by those who choose - needlessly - to punish their children through violence. I'm pleased that Wales is once again in the vanguard of attempts in these islands to promote civilised behaviour. In years to come smacking will be viewed as primitive and unsophisticated as smoking in pubs - remember that?

Wyn James, Bangor, Gwynedd,

The smacking of a child is a form of physical abuse whether people agree or not. The hitting of a child is a sort of parental failure where verbal chastisement would be more suitable. At least the Welsh Government is being pro active in trying to protect children from over zealous parents who use violence to subdue their off spring (violence breeds violence). The Tories in Westminster are just playing politics with the Assembly by attempting to throw a spanner into the legislative works by showing little old Wales that they're in charge really. David Davies do shut up and let Wales Govern itself!

Richard Lewis ap Davies, Swansea,

All this motion does is afford children the same protection as adults. Adults aren't the rational beings we like to think we are and regularly display negative behaviour, but we have laws stating it's not acceptable to resort to violence. I'm a single mum of a wonderful 13 year old who has never once been hit. It's not my right to hit someone smaller than me because they are learning social skills and behaviour. It is my duty as a parent to protect my child and nuture her to know right and wrong. It's not hard to discipline using positive parenting techniques and no hitting.

Vikki Butler, Swansea,

Again we see a sledgehammer approach by people more interested in being seen to take a stand than helping solve the problem. People will rebel against this legislation because it is pure "big brother" mentality (George Orwell not Channel 5). Why not instead introduce legislation forbidding the striking of children with any instrument or implement - less confusing, easier to enforce and more likley to gain wider public support

James, Edinburgh,

Let's distinguish between genuine child abuse and a timely smack, done in the context of a loving, calm, family framework! They are not the same thing! I was occasionally smacked as a child for any wild displays of anti-social behaviour which all children are prone to! I am now a fully participating non-criminal member of society. Surely those involved in the rioting this summer could have done with some more firm but loving boundaries put into place during their childhood, including the occasional smack when necessary!

Sophie Killingley, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire,

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